When Cancer Research this week revealed that millennials are set to become the most overweight generation since records began, there was a key message – after smoking, obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer.
It called for a ban on junk food advertising and urged people to eat healthier, more balanced diets.
While the health risks of obesity – such as increased risk of cancer and other diseases – are rarely disputed among most doctors, some experts and campaigners think the way weight is talked about should change.
Dr Stuart Flint, a senior research fellow in public health and obesity at Leeds Beckett University, said overweight people were routinely discriminated against and stigmatised – or “fat shamed” – in the media, school, the workplace and even by health professionals.
This stigma makes them less likely to become healthier and puts them at increased risk of mental health and physical illnesses, he said.
He argues that the way people – including clinicians – view and talk about obesity “massively” needs to change.
“It’s suggested to us that people can reduce their weight very quickly and that’s clearly not the case,” Dr Flint said.
“It’s a chronic condition that takes place over many years.”
Nick Finer, honorary clinical professor at University College London, said it was seen by many as “legitimate” to blame people for being overweight, but this ignored the role of the food environment around us.
He said: “If somebody falls off a boat into the water and they can’t swim and they drown, nobody says ‘it’s your fault, you should have held your breath’.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, a charity that campaigns to raise awareness of the health dangers of obesity, agreed that body shaming was harmful and ineffective at getting people to lose weight.
But he said it was important that doctors should feel comfortable about telling people they are overweight.
He said: “Obesity is such an issue that it has to be pointed out to the person who is obese that they are obese.
“If they want to continue to be obese and are happy with it then so be it, but it has to be said.