Bariatric surgery has a wide spread perception by many of being “The easy way out”.
This could not be more incorrect.
Bariatric surgery is an irreversible lifelong decision, affecting the patient immensely both pre and post-surgery. There is nothing “easy” about having this operation and we want to help make the world aware of this.
Studies have shown that nearly 50% of randomly-chosen survey participants say they believe the procedure is usually done for cosmetic rather than health reasons, and about 40% thought people who choose the surgery have taken “the easy way out”.
Obesity stigma exists within many workplaces and cultural settings, often having a negative impact on individuals’ health, social behaviours and outcomes.
A new study led by Monash University and published in the Social Science & Medicine journal looks at how obese individuals respond to different types of obesity stigma encountered in their daily lives.
Lead researcher, Dr Samantha Thomas said the perception of thinness as a health and social ideal is everywhere around us, putting pressure on the health and social wellbeing of obese adults.
“Not only are obese individuals depicted as lazy, gluttonous, unmotivated, and unhealthy but scientific research constantly reinforces a link between obesity and a range of medical, economic and social costs for members of the community,” said Dr Thomas.
“The physical visibility of the fat body also means that this negative public gaze is inescapable for those who are classified as obese.”
The study focused on three types of weight-based stigma including Direct (e.g. being abused when using public transport), Environment (e.g. not being able to fit into seats on planes), and Indirect (e.g. people staring at the contents of their supermarket trolley).
The participants responded by describing the different types of obesity stigma they faced, how they responded to this stigma, and the impact of stigma on their physical and mental health.
This research also revealed that participants described that more subtle forms of stigma had the most impact on their wellbeing. However, participants rarely challenged this stigma, and felt it was justified given their situation.
The same study found that obese adults also avoided situations where they perceived they would be stigmatised, with constant thoughts about how they could find a solution to their obesity. Importantly, this meant that many avoided participating in activities that would improve their physical and mental health.
“Obese adults face many different types of stigma which impact in different ways on health and social opportunities. These stigmas can also lead to emotional distress, social isolation, and withdrawal from daily activities. While anti-stigma initiatives developed for other health conditions may be a useful guide in obesity, it is likely that initiatives in this setting will need to be more complex. This is in part because weight bias is everywhere and is inherent in the contemporary ‘war on obesity,’” said Dr Thomas.
Dr Baxter concurs with Dr Thomas and the need to embrace the “The war on obesity”. “Our focus as a practice is mainly on lifestyle change and using the operation as an effective tool to lose weight, but it does mean there will be considerable lifestyle changes to be made by both the patient and the surrounding family. We want our patients to develop good eating behaviour, good eating habits and an active lifestyle and by using their operation as the way to do this is a sure way to ensure long and lasting success.” Said Dr Baxter
Without the support of the community around us, a patient’s choice is hindered on whether to proceed with surgery or not. We hear endless responses from patients who’ve had bariatric surgery, of which about 90% feel it was one of the best decisions they had ever made in their life. About 60% to 70% said they only had one regret: they didn’t do it sooner and the reason why, was stigma. The biggest issue in the field right now, is how do you change that bias? No one should ever be made to feel as though making a decision to better and prolong their life is the wrong option or “The easy way out”!
We first heard about the #Iamabariatricpatient movement through social media, where we came across an incredible lady called Jeanine Sherman in the USA. Jeanine has made it her mission to educate the world that Obesity is a complex disease and that Weight Loss Surgery is nothing to be ashamed of. Her vision is to bring the world together to help break the stigma surrounding Weight Loss Surgery.
As the saying goes “It takes a village” – The same principle applies to the Bariatric community. We all need to come together to help end this stigma once and for all. That is why our practice is so passionate within the #Iamabariatricpatient movement and will continue to fight “The War on Obesity”.
Study reference – Monash University