To tackle obesity, we must reduce the stigma around it
Writing on World Obesity Day, Eleanor Smith MP states that reducing stigma around obesity requires a “whole systems overhaul”.
Since I was first elected to Parliament in 2017, I have always tried to carry the experience I had as a nurse into the work I do in Westminster.
Patience is undoubtedly a trait required in both jobs – especially given the uncertain political climate we find ourselves in.
More importantly though, I have had to carry an emotional capacity and understanding to my parliamentary work to ensure I represent my constituents in a true and honest way. This understanding is particularly vital in my role as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity – an issue of immense complexity and a topic which is too often subject to ignorance.
The APPG on Obesity is a cross party group of parliamentarians calling for the Government to take a new approach to tackling obesity from prevention through to treatment.
In 2018, we published a report titled, ‘The current landscape of obesity service’ which made a number of recommendations about how the Government might take a new approach to obesity – one that recognises the scale and complexity of the issue at hand. This included creating a national obesity strategy for both adult and children, improving weight management training for healthcare professionals and the implementation of a 9pm watershed on advertising of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt.
Since the launch of this inquiry, the group’s agenda has continued to develop and a focus of our recent meetings has been on how we might work to reduce the stigma around obesity.
Much of the stigma surrounding the issue comes from a lack of understanding, both among the public and healthcare professionals. During an international conference which we held earlier this year to discuss whether obesity should be classified as a disease, stigma was seen to be a barrier to various avenues of progression within the obesity space.
While a promising consensus was formed in the room that day – one that can go a long way to help alleviate the stigma surrounding this issue – convincing the Government is a separate issue entirely.
The issue of body image within obesity is one such consequence of stigma and I have no doubt that it has caused huge problems for those who have come into contact with it, in one form or another. However, I believe the answer does not lie in addressing the issue of body image alone.
Instead we must address the wider problem of obesity and the stigma that overshadows our whole agenda. Treat this and the issues such as body image, mental health and well-being will begin to look after itself.
This is no mean feat and will require a whole systems overhaul – from tailoring our environment toward a healthier lifestyle, improving education among the public and medical professionals, addressing mental health in obesity, and removing current stigma around NHS weight management services.
The Government have shown signs of progress, as is evident in the NHS Long-Term Plan and the Childhood Obesity Strategy, but talk is cheap and policy must be implemented before progress is truly felt.
Eleanor Smith is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West.