The use of negative imagery and language in communications contributes to weight-related stigma, an expert seminar in Belfast heard today (Tuesday 20th). Delegates at the All Island Obesity Action Forum heard how stigmatization can have a negative effect on those who need help the most when it comes to their weight.

Speakers also highlighted what is known from evidence regarding stigma in mental health. At the seminar, safefood announced plans for a workshop with media to explore the role of communications in weight stigma.

Dr Grace O’Malley, Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the island of Ireland (ASOI) commented: “In clinical settings, we witness the effects of obesity on the physical and psycho-emotional health of children and adults. All too often, individuals are stigmatised due to their shape or weight in school, in healthcare, in work, online or just walking around their neighbourhood. This can have devastating effects on them and influences how or whether they interact with the health service. We each have a role to play in tackling this issue; promoting and modelling a healthier lifestyle, enabling a healthier environment, improving access to treatment for patients or portraying weight and obesity in the media in a much more respectful way.”

Seminar delegates heard leading experts from across the UK and island of Ireland present the latest research findings in the area of weight stigma, its negative effects on physical and mental health, and the strategies being used to combat weight stigma.

In addition an ASOI patient representative described a personal account of experiencing weight-related stigma. He highlighted the responsibilities of society in general and the key role played by health professionals in creating a person-centred environment based on mutual respect and dignity.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continued “Much in the same way as we’ve moved the conversation from ‘mental illness’ to ‘mental health’, so we need to do the same with weight issues and obesity on the island of Ireland. By persisting with this stigmatising notion that adults and children with obesity are somehow ‘different’ from everyone else in society, we’re being unfair and making things worse. Those who need help often avoid health services because of this.”

Dr Laura McGowan, Queen’s University Belfast and Regional NI Lead for (ASO UK) added “Tackling the high levels of obesity in Northern Ireland and its many causes needs a multi-layered response. One of these responses is raising awareness of obesity stigma and taking steps to reduce this stigma. This event is a first step among those working in public health on the island of Ireland.”

The All island Obesity Action Forum was hosted by safefood in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) and the Northern Ireland Regional Group, of the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO, UK).

You can follow and join in the conversation at the seminar on Twitter by using #obesityforum.

To find out more about safefood or the work of the All Island Obesity Action Forum, visit