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Is it time to make weight discrimination illegal?

Should making fun of overweight people be treated the same way as ageism, racism or sexism? Yes, says Dr. Sarah Jackson, who has released the results of her study into the effects of “fat-shaming.”

Obesity expert” Dr. Jackson, of University College London, carried out a study of over 5,000 British adults and found that those who were made to feel ashamed of their size were more likely to suffer from depression. She feels that the law should be changed to protect against “fattism” and weight discrimination, in the same way as it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their age, gender or race.

Jackson’s previous study showed that shaming overweight people into slimming down is counterproductive because it may encourage them to comfort eat and avoid exercise for fear of being made fun of.

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“In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 legally protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, disability, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, or gender reassignment; making it clear that discriminatory behaviour of this nature is not to be accepted,” said Jackson. “However, our results indicate that discriminatory experiences contribute to poorer psychological wellbeing in individuals with obesity, but there are currently no laws prohibiting weight discrimination. This might send the message to people that weight discrimination is socially acceptable.”

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A staggering two-thirds of British women are overweight or obese so clearly shaming people into losing weight isn’t working. What is the answer?

“We can see that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution,” says Senior author Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL. Wardle pointed out that it’s not only members of the public but also health professionals who are guilty of treating overweight people with disrespect. “Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight, and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”

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