Opinion: Obesity Matters is more than just an advocacy group. It's a lifetime in the making

Obesity Matters is taking on weight bias by pushing for better policy, while working to change the dialogue around what it means to live in a larger body.

Priti Chawla 6 minute read March 4, 2022
Priti Chawla, is the executive director of Obesity Matters

"My passion is to make a difference to this marginalized and stigmatized community because I know what it feels like," says Priti Chawla, the executive director of Obesity Matters. SUPPLIED

World Obesity Day (WOD) and Obesity Matters’ first anniversary makes me reflect on why I started Obesity Matters. There are three major reasons that stand out.

First, I wanted to address gaps in patient care and advocacy due to the pervasiveness of weight stigma in our society. Whether it’s in the workplace, the media, in education or within a circle of family and friends, weight bias and fat-shaming can have a serious and negative impact on the psychological, social, and physical health of people who are living with excess weight.

“Despite decades of science documenting weight stigma, its public health implications are widely ignored,” researchers wrote in a 2010 study on obesity stigma. “Instead, [people living with obesity] are blamed for their weight, with common perceptions that weight stigmatization is justifiable and may motivate individuals to adopt healthier behaviours.”

That bias also extends to the health-care system where obesity is somehow still not recognized by the government of Canada as a chronic disease. That fact is a symptom of weight bias and has led to countless people not receiving the proper care they deserve. Our goal is to fill that advocacy void and push for better policy while changing how people fundamentally view obesity — which leads to the second reason I founded Obesity Matters.

‘I know what it feels like’

My passion is to make a difference to this marginalized and stigmatized community because I know what it feels like. I have been a victim of diet culture. I have battled stigma. And I know the struggles of the community first-hand. So, my goal was to build an organization led by individuals with the same lived experience.

The lived experience of the people working with Obesity Matters will be key to any success we will have in advocating for real change. We know best where the gaps are in the system and what people need to have a more successful health journey.

Once we had the organization in place, the next step was to bring people together who had experienced the same struggles and victories, which brings me to the final reason I founded Obesity Matters: To build a loving and passionate community, while offering tools and support that guide people toward better health and empowerment. So far, the response and traction has been overwhelming.

‘Eat Play Love’

We launched Obesity Matters with our “Eat Play Love” spotlight series of interactive events and ran 18 episodes in 2021, growing our reach to more than two million people. With expert guest speakers who share our passion for creating change within communities impacted by obesity, the series was an effective way to engage and build the community.

The next step was to serve and support this community — based on feedback, we soon realized that many of these individuals were looking for actionable solutions, such as live workshops, tools and resources they could use to manage their health better. This led to the development of the “Eat Better Live Better” workshop series on nutrition, which features a multidisciplinary team of obesity medicine specialists, dietitians, a personal development and wellness coach, and a patient advocate.

Thanks to such programs and a strong social media presence, we have been able to partner with several organizations who share our passion and commitment to promoting game-changing dialogue, ending fat shaming, and inspiring health and hope for people living with obesity. These partnerships cover a wide range of areas focused on addressing issues like weight stigma and bullying, nutrition, physical activity and sleep, as well as clinical research and the treatment of obesity as a chronic disease.

So where do we go from here?

We will continue to grow our community, have open conversations and offer support in a safe space where no one is discriminated against because of their size. We want to change policy so that evidence-based treatments are available to all who need it, regardless of race, sex, socio-economic status, or any other factor. We also want to investigate the future and adopt partnerships with innovators, be it in virtual medicine, or with influencers and celebrities who can further disseminate the message of self-love.

And we want stakeholders who can help debunk the myth that obesity is a lifestyle issue and help us achieve our vision to create a future of weight acceptance, where health and happiness are a priority.

One of those partners is Healthing.ca, the national health portal for Postmedia and a source for trending health stories and trustworthy information.

“The moment we met Priti and her team and heard about the mission of Obesity Matters and how much passion was going into changing the dialogue around living in larger bodies and educating health care providers on the challenges and needs of people living with the disease, we knew this was a partnership we needed to forge,” says Lisa Machado, executive producer of Healthing. “Add in OM’s commitment to raising awareness of the importance of advocating for your health, and it makes perfect sense that we work together to achieve these goals.”

Each day when I wake up, there is something to inspire and energize me. Not only because of my ikigai but also the volunteers that make this organization so great, constantly reminding us why we’re doing what we’re doing — fighting obesity in all its forms.

“Obesity Matters sees its community as people living with this disease, not patients. Focus is on the whole person — heart, mind, body and spirit, and a belief that everyone is capable and deserving of a life that is healthy and fulfilled,” says Jennifer Hynes, a registered dietitian, personal development and wellness coach who volunteers with Obesity Matters. “It’s not about ‘do this, don’t do that’ or ‘eat this, don’t eat that’ because each person is unique, special, and so very important. This is what resonates so strongly with me, and why I am so moved to be part of the OM movement.”

We are dedicated to providing evidence-based information, credible resources and a community that accepts people of all sizes. We are giving a platform to people with lived experience to share their stories of success, failure, trauma, and joy. And we want to help individuals become advocates for themselves so they can take action to help transform societal attitudes.

You are not alone in your struggles. We practice what we preach at Obesity Matters because your problems reflect our own.

We invite you to join our growing community to help us fight for real change. Whether it be through a corporate partnership, a volunteer opportunity or by simply following us on social media, you’ll be adding to our passionate base of like-minded people looking to do some good in the world.

“We can all benefit from the community Obesity Matters is nurturing because we are all a part of it, regardless of our own personal weight experience,” says Hynes.” “This is what makes it so special.”

Priti Chawla, is the executive director of Obesity Matters and can be reached at priti@obesity-matters.com

Thank you for your support. If you liked this story, please send it to a friend. Every share counts.