Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsWe all have our own views about obesity. And in this video, I'm going to share my own story. But first, a quotation from Shakespeare. In King Henry IV, Act 1, Scene 2, he wrote, "Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon benches after noon that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know." Today, that might be considered hurtful language to the point of bullying. And yet, stigma associated with obesity persists. You may be someone from a slim family who has never really had any problems controlling your own weight, and as such, cannot really understand how some people could get to be overweight.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsYou may have even said to others, you just need to eat less and exercise more. It's as simple as that. My own prejudices were brought home to me by a speaker on our course. She asked us to write down the first thing we thought of when seeing a photo of an obese man dressed in just his swimming trunks and about to bite into a pie. My own reaction was, yuck, no. Don't do it. And the responses by others on the course show that I wasn't alone. There were several other responses, such as, yuck. Disgusting. How can you?

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsI think the speaker was quite disappointed that a group of health care professionals who had a real interest in tackling the problem of obesity had such negative views. But at least that was at the start of the day, and hopefully by the end, we all realised that we had to start to understand the stigma and confront our own prejudices if we were to be successful in our aim of supporting others. Research has shown that health care professionals may be more judgmental than the rest of society. We often talk about people who cannot control their weight, exposing our own bias towards thinking that it's all in the control if the individual, and that there are no societal responsibilities.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 secondsPeople who are overweight are stigmatised for lacking willpower and discipline to either their eating or exercise habits. The blame is inevitably laid with the person and not with the environment in which they live. This stigmatisation doesn't take into account other factors, such as the compensatory biological responses to dieting, which we'll talk about in week three. Many of these factors were covered in an interesting article by Marx in 2008. He introduces and challenges two stereotypes. The first stereotype is that the recent surge in the prevalence of obesity reflects almost entirely environmental and psychological factors, and excludes an important contribution of genetic biological factors. The second stereotype is that obesity should and can be treated primarily by diet and behavioural modification.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 secondsOne interesting comparison is with alcoholism. It's not just the drinking of alcohol that makes a person an alcoholic. There's more to it than that. And in the same way, it's not just the eating of food that makes one obese. You may find this a useful comparison, although within it, there are also differences, for an alcoholic can survive without alcohol, whereas an obese person cannot live without food. Brian Champagne in 2005 wrote about how there's more to obesity than calories. They concluded that genetic and physiological responses of a person determine whether or not this toxic environment will produce obesity.

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 secondsReversing the current trends of obesity requires a new look at the limits of the energy balance concept and a better understanding of how environmental factors acutely and chronically change the responses of susceptible people. That is something that this course will address. Researching, analysing, and appraising the background for this course has made me realise that to reverse the current trends of obesity requires more than my simplistic understanding of energy in and energy out. I now have a better understanding of how environmental factors affect the responses of people susceptible to obesity. This understanding has helped me to be more understanding of people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

Perceptions of obesity

The topic of obesity is riddled with negative stereotypes and assumptions that overlook the key environmental factors that can lead to it. In this video we introduce you to some of these factors and how understanding them has even helped to change our own perceptions.

We will ask you to share your thoughts in the next step.


Optional further reading:

Requires subscription - Bray, G.A. and Champagne, C.M. (2005). Beyond energy balance: there is more to obesity than kilocalories. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 105, S17-23.

Wills W, Backettt-Milburn K, Gregory S, Lawton J. (2006) Young teenagers’ perceptions of their own and others’ bodies: A qualitative study of obese, overweight and ‘normal’ weight young people in Scotland Social Science & Medicine. 63, 396-406 (Abstract only online)

Johnson F, Cooke L, Croker H, Wardle J. (2008) Changing perceptions of weight in Great Britain: comparison of two population surveys. BMJ, 337, a494

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Obesity: Causes and Consequences

University of Reading