Ethics of “Obesity Epidemic” to be Examined at International Workshop

A group of 20 international experts on obesity will gather in Kitchener-Waterloo on the weekend of October 20-21, to share insights into the social and cultural dimensions of obesity in Canada. Attendees will reflect on the ethical and equity issues that arise in the treatment of people deemed obese.

“As the obesity epidemic and critical responses to it reach the 10-year mark, this planning meeting brings together scholars whose work expands upon and complicates understanding of fatness and the obesity epidemic in the Canadian context,” says Wendy Mitchinson, Canada Research Chair in Gender and Medical History at the University of Waterloo and co-organizer of the conference.

One participant, Michael Gard of Australia’s Southern Cross University, examines Canadian weight statistics during the last thirty years, and questions whether the rhetoric of “crisis” is warranted at all given the recent plateau in obesity rates.

Other experts will examine obesity stigma, a problem that may deter people from seeking medical care, and isolate them in social situations. Obesity stigma is defined as the negative treatment and discrimination experienced by people who are considered “fat”. Other visiting scholars include:

• Charlene Elliott (University of Calgary) who asks who is “responsible” for childhood obesity, and considers the implications of government programs aimed at youth.

• Deborah McPhail (University of Manitoba) looks at obesity stigma in working class and poor populations, specifically in rural areas

• Gerry Kasten (Public Health Dietician) and Lawrence Mroz (University of British Columbia) who focus on eating and body management practices in gay male communities.

• Jenny Ellison (Mount Allison University) who will talk about critical responses to obesity stigma by Canadian and American “fat activists.”

As well as critical perspectives, participants will hear innovative suggestions from scholars like LeAnne Petherick (University of Manitoba) and Natalie Beausoleil (Memorial University of Newfoundland), who explore new modes for obesity education that would promote self-esteem and healthy body image in children.

Organizers of the workshop received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for work in the area of health ethics. The work done at the meeting will result in a published collection of articles.

For more information, contact me.

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