Communicating Obesity

This year marked the sixth anniversary of the UK Congress on Obesity (UKCO), which was held at the University of Leeds from the 11th to the 13th September. The Congress featured numerous events under the theme ‘Future Thinking and Innovation in Obesity’, and kicked off with a light-hearted ‘Show and Tell’ event on the Wednesday evening hosted by Prof Anthony Leeds. 

Six special guests – Dr Giles Yeo, Professor Janet Cade, Dr Dimitri Pournaras, Dr Pia Christiensen, Dr Abd Taharini and Maggie Clinton – made up the event’s panel. They each put forward two objects or entities; the first had a negative influence on obesity, and the second had a positive impact on alleviating obesity.

Within the first few Congress speeches, it became clear that the complexity of factors attributed to causing obesity was going to become a prominent theme of the two hours. While the panel each only proposed one negative and one positive object influencing obesity in individuals, each item could be linked to a wide variety of ideas such as psychological hindrances, highlighting the complexity of the disease and how a multitude of factors can combine in individuals to cause it. A powerful video shown by Dr Maria Bryant at the beginning of the event ended on the statement: “Obesity is a complex disease, not a life choice.”

“Obesity is a complex disease, not a life choice

The congress maintained that ‘fat shaming’ attitudes and language are unsuccessful strategies for helping people to lose weight, and that discourse surrounding weight-loss needs to shift from condemning lack of willpower to understanding the complexities of the disease. Many people living with obesity are genetically susceptible to weight gain, or have lifestyles that hinder weight loss. The panel suggested that a multitude of contemporary entities such as modernised travel, screen-time and portion size are all significant influential factors driving  rising obesity levels. New statistics state that one in three children and over two thirds of adults are classed as being overweight or obese; according to the World Health Organisation, this is nearly triple the levels observed in 1975.

“[the] discourse surrounding weight-loss needs to shift from condemning lack of willpower to understanding the complexities of the disease.”

The most popular methods of helping people with obesity lose weight, as voted by the audience, were diet, exercise, and communicating. Maggie Clinton gave an eloquent speech which suggested that medical professionals and the media should use more supportive language regarding obesity; again, this supported the idea that making people feel ashamed about their weight is a hindrance rather than a help. 

In a complementary tweet by James Corden, the TV show host stated: “If making fun of fat people made them lose weight, then there’d be no fat kids in schools.” 

Positive Influence on obesity
Negative influence on obesity

The conclusion to be made from this is that more supportive discourse surrounding obesity needs to be established in order to help people find the time and resources to have healthier diets and do more exercise. 

Throughout the Congress, the panel and audience prompted links between proposed entities and maintained the strong unifying position that obesity is a highly complex disease with multiple contributing factors. The Congress also upheld the strong argument that, although medical procedures are becoming more prevalent and effective, the rival negative entities such as screen-time and unhealthy diets are still strongly counteracting positive ideas and hindering individuals’ weight loss.

image source: pixabay