Are fat people socially discriminated against?

SWR2 knowledge "Body Shaming" - How fat people are discriminated against

Insulting, bullying and marginalizing overweight people

The phenomenon of devaluing a person because of his appearance is now called "body shaming". And "fat shaming", the insulting, bullying and marginalization of overweight people is now the main reason for physical defamation. It is said that fat people are less productive, they have no health awareness, they lack hygiene.

According to a survey in 2016, the statutory health insurance fund DAK found a very high number of people with a discriminatory attitude towards overweight people in the “XXL Report - Opinions and assessments on overweight and obesity”: “71 percent of the population find extremely overweight people unaesthetic. Every eighth consciously avoids contact with those affected. "

This bias has consequences, as studies repeatedly show. Children and young people bully and tease others because they are fat - and the number of bullying victims often increases as a result. Companies don't hire heavy people or pay them less. The whole private life of fat people is restricted. Doctors, too, repeatedly show what is known as "fat shaming" - they hardly want to touch high-weight patients, examine them more hesitantly, overlook or ignore their actual symptoms.

Body mass index determines body norms

When a body is officially considered "thin", "fat" or "normal", the so-called body mass index categorizes BMI. This is a statistical measure that dates back to the 19th century: body weight divided by height squared. This number makes the human bodies comparable.

In 1997 the World Health Organization stipulated for all - critics say, in agreement with the pharmaceutical industry: People with a BMI of 25 and over are "overweight". In Germany, 67 percent of men and 55 percent of women are generally classified as overweight, i.e. over half of the population.

Fat is more than just a store of energy

The physician Jürgen Ordemann heads the Center for Obesity and Metabolic Surgery at a city clinic in Berlin. He is joined by women and men with a BMI over 30. They are considered to be obese. Jürgen Ordemann considers the prevailing opinion on obesity to be backward thinking - combined with myths that cannot be justified. Because cells in adipose tissue don't just store energy. They also form hormones and inflammation parameters that spread in the body, reach the brain and influence the hunger and satiety centers there. For example, many people then realize too late that they are full and eat beyond what is good for their body. This is the danger, says the doctor, that everyone is exposed to nowadays.

Slightly overweight increases life expectancy

An appeal to medicine and health care is necessary. Because up-to-date specialist knowledge can prevent discriminatory behavior. For example, that being slightly overweight actually increases life expectancy, as studies in the USA and Denmark have shown. And it is noticeable that patients in the intensive care units are better off when they bring more body reserves with them.

Friedrich Schorb from the Institute for Public Health at the University of Bremen tries in Germany with like-minded people to make known the so-called "Fat Studies", which have long been established in the USA and Great Britain. For a number of years now, women scientists from psychology, health and care, sociology and social work, and also from art and culture, have been investigating and unmasking the discrimination of fat people in order to resolve it.

Anchoring "weight" as a discriminatory feature in law in order to be able to fight for rights

For some, successful celebrities like the American rock singer Beth Ditto or the Belgian doctor and former health minister Maggie de Block are good role models. In addition, a catchphrase such as "body positivity" should help: the good relationship with your own body, regardless of how it looks. But behind this, warns Friedrich Schorb, a new dogma may be lurking. Terms such as "body positivity" and "body shaming" draw more attention to the discrimination, insult and exclusion of fat people - but they do not ensure that fat people can fight for their rights.

And that's what Natalie Rosenke fights for. Since 2015 she has been chairwoman of the “Society against Weight Discrimination” - a political interest group in Berlin - and is in demand as an expert. Rosenke wants to anchor "weight" as a discriminatory feature in the laws at federal and state level. For example, Rosenke has already managed to get the SPD politician Susanne Fischer to campaign against the weight stigma in the state of Berlin. Because the task of politics is to give victims of discrimination legal opportunities to defend themselves. And so you can also show at the same time that weight discrimination is exactly that: Discrimination against people.

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