Guidelines for the Portrayal of Overweight and Obese Persons in the Media

It would be difficult to find a compassionate healthcare provider who would support bias and discrimination of their patient population. But, all too often, healthcare providers (as well as writers and editors) make choices that unfortunately do just that….reinforce obesity bias and discrimination. Bias and discrimination affect all of us; our consciousness has been raised in the way we speak, write, depict, and comment on many vulnerable groups in our society. Obesity discrimination unfortunately remains a prevalent issue for many of our patients and remains legal in all states except Michigan.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity is a data driven, policy oriented site which has several missions, one of which is to stop obesity bias and stigma through research, education, and advocacy. Dr. Rebecca Puhl has led a team of researchers at the Center in the study of obesity bias/discrimination. Her work is often cited, available to all through the site, and offers guidance on opportunities for advocacy and intervention.

Two areas on the Rudd Center website are of particular interest to the INANE membership.The first area features media resources for journalists, bloggers, editors, and film, television, and communication experts. The Rudd Center Media Gallery contains a repository of images and videos that are free for use by anyone visiting their site.  These images show people affected by obesity in a positive way, in a variety of work, school, and recreational settings. The second resource includes guidelines for the portrayal of overweight and obese persons in media or print (including professional posters and presentations). These guidelines remind us to respectfully put people first and the “condition” second. We are all familiar with the disrespectful videos that often accompany a newscast on some “obesity” news….often showing a video of a person affected by obesity walking from behind, focusing only on their body, not their shoulders and head.

As editors of nursing journals, we are in an ideal position to share this information through editorials and articles. Just as important, being mindful of modeling appropriate “people first; condition second” writing will encourage the elimination of bias and discrimination toward a population of our patients who need our support. I encourage you to visit the links above and if time permits, the entire Rudd Center site. Spreading the news of this valuable resource to your readership, students, staff, and community will go far to eradicate hurtful bias and discrimination of adults and children affected by obesity.

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