Obesity bias focus of Thunder Bay research

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.

Lakehead University PhD student receives grant to research biases around obesity

Stereotypes surrounding obesity are often fuelled by an oversimplified perception that body weight is a result of calories eaten versus calories burned. One researcher says many overweight people are fit, while many people considered thin don't eat healthy food or exercise.

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.

Lakehead University researcher Erin Cameron has received a grant to study the bias that exists around obesity. (Supplied)

"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.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.