BodyMatters recommends: the “National Obesity Strategy”

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On Sunday 15 December, BodyMatters was pleased to provide the following submission to the National Obesity Strategy. We remain hopeful that this consultation process enables the Australian Government to adopt non dieting and weight inclusive approach to health to- as they themselves say- “create a healthier future”.

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BodyMatters Australasia provides counselling and treatment for eating and dieting disorders, body image issues and problematic exercise. As an organisation, we endorse the Health at Every Size® principles, shifting the focus of treatment from weight to overall well-being, which is characterised by encouraging the pursuit of health giving behaviors regardless of weight. 

Currently, the overall message from health authorities is that having a body weight that is classified as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ is unhealthy. This message manifests in public health promotion policies and programs focused on ‘obesity’ prevention. This current health discourse primarily focuses on weight, which we believe to be problematic for the following reasons: 

  • Whilst most weight loss attempts seem to work in the short term, the vast majority of dieters will eventually regain the weight. Up to 95% of people who lose weight in the first year, gain it back over the next two to five years. Moreover, as many as two thirds of dieters end up gaining more weight than they lost.  As a result, most people continue to engage in repeated dieting attempts, causing adverse wellbeing outcomes, such as weight cycling, low self-esteem, eating disorders and disordered relationship with food and exercise.
  • ‘Anti-obesity’ efforts unintentionally contribute to weight stigma. The use of words such as “obesity epidemic” stigmatises and pathologises larger bodies, contributing to the already pervasive prejudice and discrimination people in lager bodies experience on a daily basis. Ironically, research suggests weight stigma begets weight gain through increased eating and other biobehavioral mechanisms.

 

We are concerned the proposed National Obesity Strategy is not taking into consideration the growing body of evidence that supports a non dieting, weight inclusive approach to health. Approaches such as Health at Every Size®, promotes health giving behaviour without focusing on weight loss. Data supports this approach for improving physical (e,g., blood pressure), behavioral (e.g., disorder eating), and psychological (e.g., depression) indices, as well as acceptability of public health messages²’.

We recommend the Strategy  should:

  • Be referred as “health promotion” and not marketed as “obesity prevention”.
  • Avoid stigmatisation of larger bodies, such as using language like “overweight” or “obesity epidemic”.
  • Focus on the promotion of health giving behaviour, not weight.
  • Discourage dieting behaviour, rather promote an intuitive way of eating.
  • Promotes joyful and sustainable movement.
  • Promote self-esteem, body satisfaction and respect for body size diversity.

 

We thank COAG Health Council for the opportunity to contribute to its consultation of the National Obesity Strategy. If we can be of further assistance in this consultation please let us know. 

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