Press release: People living with obesity less likely to seek medical care due to stigma

People living with obesity less likely to seek medical care due to stigma

National obesity conference to mark European Obesity Day will focus on addressing weight stigma and patient advocacy

Tuesday 14th May 2019 People living with obesity experience stigma and discrimination in almost all areas of their lives, including healthcare. A national conference taking place in Dublin this week will hear how this means they are less likely to seek medical care, and when they are seen they receive poorer quality of care.

The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland’s (ASOI) Annual Conference 2019 will take place on 17th-18th May in the Convention Centre Dublin.

This two-day meeting will include national and international speakers, and delegates from a range of disciplines, including clinicians, social scientists and patient representatives. There will also be an interactive media panel discussion on how obesity is discussed in the media and how to reduce obesity stigma, to better support public health messaging.

According to ASOI Chair, Dr Jean O’Connell, Consultant Endocrinologist at St Columcille’s Hospital Weight Management Service and Blackrock Clinic: “There is a perception that stigmatising individuals with higher weight, and applying social pressure to lose weight, will have a beneficial effect on population health. Studies have shown that the reverse is true. Weight stigma increases the likelihood of unhealthy behaviours, as it is associated with increased eating and avoidance of exercise. High levels of bias among healthcare professionals negatively impacts the quality of care received by patients with a higher weight and means they are less likely to seek medical care. During this year’s conference we are focusing on how we can work together to address weight bias and enhance patient advocacy”.

One of the speakers, Professor Arya Sharma, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, and founder and Scientific Director of Obesity Canada, said: “Although obesity is now recognised as a complex chronic disease, both the public health and clinical approaches to obesity prevention and management embrace a rather simplistic narrative of “eat-less-move-more”. This approach fails to acknowledge the complex interaction between environmental and neurobiological mechanisms which play a large role in determining body shape and size, much of which is beyond the control of the individual.”

Delegates will also hear how people of low socioeconomic status are disproportionately disadvantaged by factors associated with weight-gain as a result of social inequalities and are therefore particularly vulnerable to obesity stigma.

As part of the conference, on Saturday 18th May, the ASOI is marking “European Obesity Day” with a special event for people living with obesity and their families. European Obesity Day 2019 aims to raise awareness and increase knowledge about obesity and the many other diseases on which it impacts. Speaking about the event, Ms Susie Birney, patient representative with the ASOI and Secretary of the European Coalition for People living with Obesity (ECPO) said, “One of our main goals as a patient group is to raise awareness about “People First” language and we have received great feedback from this campaign. We feel patient participation at conferences is vital and we appreciate the support the ASOI have given us in doing this.”

Dr Jean O’Connell, added, “This conference is an important milestone, as the ASOI prepares to host the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the World Obesity Federation (WOF)’s first joint ECO-ICO conference in Dublin in 2020. In 2020 we expect to welcome over 2,000 delegates to Dublin, including scientific experts from EASO, WOF and some of the most prestigious global research institutes. ASOI is a young organisation, yet this year we are delighted that our former Chair, Dr Grace O’Malley, was nominated to the role of Secretary of EASO, which is a positive development for Irish research, clinical care and advocacy”.


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For more information or to request an interview please contact

Marita Hennessy, Communications Lead, Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland,

Telephone: +353 (0)86 374 3794

Email: /


Editor’s notes

  1. About ASOI: The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) is the Irish representative body at the European Association for the Study of Obesity and the World Obesity Federation. ASOI aims to develop an understanding of obesity through the pursuit of excellence in research and education, the facilitation of contact between individuals and organisations, and the promotion of action to prevent and treat obesity, across the island of Ireland. See for details.
  2. For more information about European Obesity Day visit 
  3. ECPO is the European Coalition for People living with Obesity. It is a patient-led organisation working with the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) to improve the lives of people affected by obesity. ECPO was launched at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow on 29 April.
  4. Please use people-first language and non-stigmatising imagery when speaking/writing about obesity.