Big biases

How to avoid contributing to stigma surrounding obesity

People who are overweight or obese take a lot of crap from society, from portrayals in TV shows and movies to how they’re actually treated by co-workers, friends and family—but you don’t have to contribute to the stigma. For starters, don’t make assumptions about a person’s character, intelligence or professional success based on his or her weight. By becoming aware of your own biases, you can more empathetically interact with the bigger people in your life. Here are some specific strategies:

• Be sensitive to the fact that they’ve almost certainly had negative experiences related to their weight.

• Avoid the stereotype that obesity is attributable to a lack of personal willpower.

• If you must give advice, suggest something concrete like starting an exercise program or eating at home—not just “you need to lose weight.”

• Acknowledge the difficulty of lifestyle changes.

• Emphasize that even small weight losses can lead to significant health gains.