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Keywords:

  • lived experiences;
  • obesity;
  • public health;
  • qualitative research;
  • social and cultural factors;
  • stigma and discrimination

Abstract

Objective  To develop an in-depth picture of both lived experience of obesity and the impact of socio-cultural factors on people living with obesity.

Design  Qualitative methodology, utilizing in-depth semi-structured interviews with a community sample of obese adults (body mass index ≥30). Community sampling methods were supplemented with purposive sampling techniques to ensure a diverse range of individuals were included.

Results  Seventy-six individuals (aged 16–72) were interviewed. Most had struggled with their weight for most of their lives (n = 45). Almost all had experienced stigma and discrimination in childhood (n = 36), as adolescents (n = 41) or as adults (n = 72). About half stated that they had been humiliated by health professionals because of their weight. Participants felt an individual responsibility to lose weight, and many tried extreme forms of dieting to do so. Participants described an increasing culture of ‘blame’ against people living with obesity perpetuated by media and public health messages. Eighty percent said that they hated or disliked the word obesity and would rather be called fat or overweight.

Discussion and Conclusion  There are four key conclusions: (i) the experiences of obesity are diverse, but there are common themes, (ii) people living with obesity have heard the messages but find it difficult to act upon them, (iii) interventions should be tailored to address both individual and community needs and (iv) we need to rethink how to approach obesity interventions to ensure that avoid recapitulating damaging social stereotypes and exacerbating social inequalities.