Guess what SA's biggest prejudice is (Hint: it's not race or gender)
And fattism is the worst form of discrimination, experts say
South Africans are even more fattist than they are racist and sexist.
Research released to mark World Obesity Day on Thursday shows that nearly all adults (89%) believe people with obesity are viewed negatively because of their weight.
More than eight in 10 adults (84%) believe people are likely to discriminate against someone who is overweight. This is higher than discrimination for sexual orientation (78%), ethnic background (75%) and gender (55%).
The findings show that people with obesity experience stigma and discrimination in all aspects of their lives. Three in five adults living with obesity have felt judged because of their weight in clothes shops or in social situations, and about half have felt judged in healthcare settings (52%) and gyms (44%).
Nearly one in three people with obesity have felt judged online because of their weight.
Professor Carel le Roux, who graduated from the University of Pretoria and heads the obesity working group at Imperial College London, said: “If there is one country in the world that understands how wrong discrimination is then it is South Africa.
“Moreover, South Africans have always shown themselves willing to take on the big questions of our time and to right the wrongs of the past. Here is another opportunity for South Africa to be the moral compass of the world and to end weight stigma.”
The stigma attached to obesity is the focus of this year’s World Obesity Day, launched in 2015 by the World Obesity Foundation, which said the media had a key role to play.
The foundation’s research found more than half of SA adults think the news media (55%) and popular media (62%), such as TV and magazines, worsen the public’s opinion of people with obesity.
“We are calling on all media outlets to end their use of stigmatising language and imagery and instead portray obesity in a fair, accurate and informative manner,” said the foundation.
It also published a report – based on research published in Clinical Obesity – highlighting the prevalence of negative images and language used when reporting on obesity in online media.
SA media were found to be among the world’s most stigmatising, based on the images used to accompany articles about obesity.
Federation CEO Johanna Ralston said: “Weight discrimination is rife across the world. It’s time this ended. People are being blamed for obesity, but decades of public health research show that obesity is complex and there are multiple causes. Stigmatising obesity undermines people’s health and makes it harder to seek support.
“This World Obesity Day we’re calling on the media to reshape the narrative around obesity and for social media companies to clamp down on weight abuse online. Changing the narrative around diseases and conditions can transform public perceptions and improve quality of life and outcomes for patients.”