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Why do we Confuse Weight and Health?

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

Can we agree that weight and health are not synonyms? Even though most of us recognize this in theory, our everyday language confuses the two words. Furthermore, our conversations are littered with negative assumptions about what it means to have a higher BMI or weight. Research shows that weight bias is the fourth most frequently reported form of discrimination and there has been a 66% increase in its occurrence between 1995 and 2006.¹ Weight normative language is also judgmental and causes stigma. There is no normal weight. There is no one body shape or size that is best for everyone of a certain height. Healthy bodies are diverse. And, unfortunately, weight stigma is related to negative mental and physical health effects. Quite frankly, this is a social justice issue.

As a psychologist, I am a listener. I hear many people state, as if it is a fact, that they cannot possibly be healthy or fit because they weigh “x”. Then I ask, what is the evidence? What does the doctor say? What do their labs show? These questions are often surprising—as if it should be obvious that a person can’t be healthy if his or her body weight or shape does not match the cultural ideal. The truth is, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

We can all try using a different approach. The Health at Every Size paradigm suggests we focus, not on weight itself, but instead on markers of health or sickness. If you are concerned about your own weight or fitness, focus on adding in more of the foods or exercise your body most needs to function well. If you are concerned about your own health, identify the source of the problem—blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, other abnormal lab results, pain, stress or functional impairments.² If you are concerned about someone else, encourage them to do the same.

Let’s be more thoughtful and stop confounding weight and health. This shift in dialogue will be more accurate and just as importantly, more compassionate.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible”

[1] Nutter, S. et al.; Journal of Obesity. 2016; Positioning of Weight Bias: Moving towards Social Justice; link.
[2] Robison, J.; MedGenMed. 2005; 7(3); Health at Every Size: Toward a New Paradigm of Weight and Health; link.

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