A Lakehead University researcher says constant public health messages against obesity fail to help people get healthier, and even contribute to a bias among health professionals against overweight patients.
Erin Cameron, also a former professional cyclist, says a person's weight doesn't necessarily indicate how healthy they are.
"When I was actually competing, I would have been overweight, yet I was training 10 hours a day,” she said.
Now a PhD student in Lakehead's Faculty of Education, Cameron has received a $40,000 grant to study bias against overweight people — something she said is fuelled by anti-obesity campaigns.
"We're getting larger as a population, but we also know there's increasing eating disorders,” she said. “So there's something going on ... about how we're teaching about obesity."
Cameron said students — including future health professionals — learn that body weight amounts to calories eaten versus calories burned.
She said that can lead to assumptions that overweight people simply eat too much or are lazy.
The causes of obesity are actually more complex and involve "genetics, socioeconomic status and education,” Cameron said.
Much like the rest of society, health care professionals are also prone to weight bias, she said, adding that, if patients feel shame in the doctor's office, they may avoid seeking health care altogether.