Biased Views of Obesity Leave Canadians Unsupported at Work and in the Doctor’s Office: Study

World Obesity Day

Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA

EDMONTON, Alberta, Oct. 11, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Obesity Canada: Healthcare professionals, employers and people living with obesity disagree on how the disease develops, how to manage it and who owns responsibility for treatment, according to a new assessment.

The Awareness, Care, and Treatment in Obesity Management (ACTION) Study surveyed attitudes toward obesity in 2,000 individuals living with it, 395 physicians and allied health professionals who manage it, and 150 employers who provide private health benefits. Results were published in the journal Clinical Obesity in October 2019.

“The primary conclusion of our ACTION report is that weight bias and discrimination are deeply ingrained among healthcare providers and employers, and this is preventing people from accessing meaningful obesity care,” says Dr. Arya M. Sharma, scientific director for Obesity Canada and lead author on the Clinical Obesity article. “The current science tells us that obesity is a chronic disease just like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, and yet we are in effect still telling people who have it that they did this to themselves, and that they don’t deserve to be supported.”

Obesity Canada highlights five key conclusions from the ACTION study conducted and provides recommendations for each of the three surveyed groups on how to change attitudes and improve access to obesity care:

  • 94% of healthcare providers (HCPs) think that obesity is a serious chronic disease on par with stroke, depression and others, yet many believe diet (63%) and exercise (50%) are effective treatments.
  • 72% of HCPs said they discussed weight management in their interactions with people with obesity (PwO), but only 50% of PwO said their HCPs had done so.
  • Even though 82% of PwO said they are actively trying to manage it, 72% of HCPs and 65% of employers believe that PwO are not motivated to manage their disease.
  • 47% of employers believe that weight is within employees’ control; 63% believe PwO can manage their weight if they set their mind to it.
  • 77% of employers thought their wellness programs contributed to successful weight management significantly/a lot, while only 32% of PwO agreed.

Obesity Canada’s recommendation include:

People with obesity:

  • Learn evidence about obesity causes and treatments and understand that obesity management is a lifelong process that requires medical intervention.
  • Self-advocate for support and access to treatments based on Obesity Canada’s online resources.

Healthcare professionals:

  • Embrace recent research supporting obesity’s complex etiology and heterogeneity.
  • Learn more about current, evidence-based approaches to treating obesity as a chronic disease using available treatments (new Clinical Practice Guidelines will be available in 2020).


  • Treat obesity as a chronic disease and move it out of the lifestyle category within health plans.
  • Offer meaningful obesity services/coverage that move beyond diet and exercise programs.

“ACTION is yet another piece of evidence that supports what those of us living with obesity have known our whole lives -- that antiquated, unscientific attitudes toward obesity shut us out of the treatments and supports that those living with other chronic diseases take for granted,” said Lisa Schaffer, chair of Obesity Canada’s Public Engagement Committee.

“We are talking about a chronic disease that affects 26% of Canadian adults -- more than diabetes (7%), heart disease (8.5%) and high blood pressure (20%),” Dr. Sharma concluded. “The disparity between how well these conditions are supported compared with obesity should be a wake-up call to all three surveyed groups.”

Obesity Canada’s ACTION report can be viewed here.
The Clinical Obesity article is available here.

About the ACTION Study
The Awareness, Care, and Treatment In Obesity MaNagement (ACTION) Study was designed to investigate the barriers to obesity management from the perspective of people with obesity, health care professionals and employers. Commissioned by Novo Nordisk Canada Inc., the ACTION Study was also conducted in 12 other countries.

About Obesity Canada
Obesity Canada-Obésité Canada is Canada’s authoritative voice on evidence-based approaches for obesity prevention, treatment, and policy. Our mission is to improve the lives of Canadians affected by obesity through the advancement of anti-discrimination, prevention, and treatment efforts.


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