We all live in diet culture, a society obsessed with thinness and dieting. Weight and food biases permeate the air we breathe, tingeing our thoughts and actions in ways sometimes hard to notice. Providers, patients—none of us—are immune to these biases. They’re often subtle and deeply embedded, and left unexamined and unchecked, they can manifest in interactions between patients and even the most capable, well-intentioned providers.
In this article, we define and discuss weight and food bias, including its perpetuating factors and health consequences. Learn the impact of weight stigma and how to recognize and counter implicit and explicit bias in yourself, your practice, and in our larger society.
What are weight bias and stigma?
Weight bias refers to negative attitudes, beliefs, or assumptions about others based on body weight or size. Internalized weight bias occurs when these negative weight-related beliefs are absorbed and held about oneself.
Weight bias can lead to weight stigma, or the disapproval of someone based on their weight. Stigma is seeing someone negatively because of their weight, which can in turn lead to treating someone negatively because of it. Stigma manifests in stereotyping, bullying, and discrimination on the basis of weight, as well as exclusion and marginalization in media, professional, health care, and other settings. While weight bias harms people of all sizes, those who live in bodies that do not conform to “normal” body size expectations experience the greatest weight stigmatization.