Is 'fat-shaming' racist?

by RNZ / 01 February, 2019
fat shaming

Photo: RNZ/123RF

A new piece of research from the Auckland University of Technology says that weight loss-centred public healthcare initiatives may be causing more harm to Māori than good.

Research by Dr Isaac Warbrick from the Auckland University of Technology has found many weight loss-centred public healthcare initiatives frame Māori as unproductive.

Mr Warbrick is the lead author of the paper The shame of fat-shaming in public health: moving past racism to embrace indigenous solutions. It has been published in the international Public Health journal. 

"In New Zealand, weight remains the primary focus for health interventions targeting Māori, with limited mention of psychological, spiritual or whānau wellbeing," he said. 

Nationally almost one in three adults are obese, while among Māori, 47 percent of adults are obese, according to the New Zealand Health Survey 2017/18.

He said societal and institutional racism needed to be challenged in the areas of nutrition, physical activity and weight loss. 

"Rather than improving health outcomes for Māori, weight and weight loss-centred approaches may actually cause harm," Mr Warbrick said.

"It's not fair for someone to go to the doctor after making huge lifestyle changes, exercising, changing their diet and then being told 'you need to lose weight' even though they might have lost a whole lot of weight and are a whole lot fitter."

Read more: Just the weigh you are?Gillette ad isn't anti-men, it's anti-toxic masculinity – it should be welcomed

He said that approach was unhelpful and could be a barrier for Māori engaging with health services in the future. 

Fat was also a racism issue, he noted.

"Just as sexism-related stigma is compounded by weight anxiety, racism toward Māori is compounded by fat-shaming," Mr Warbrick said. 

"Long before we reached the current alarming level of obesity, Māori were stigmatised, like many other colonised peoples, because of the colour of their skin, their beliefs and culture. 

"Stigma is nothing new to Māori, so when we are told that we are fat and less productive because of our fatness, we are not surprised because we have been told the same thing, albeit for different reasons, for generations." 

The paper examines perceptions of weight and racism towards Māori, New Zealand's policy and practice regarding weight, and proposed indigenous solutions. 

"We need indigenous-led solutions informed by indigenous knowledge."

This article was first published on Radio NZ.

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