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The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss

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USING AN ETHICAL LENS, THIS REVIEW EVALUATES TWO METHODS OF WORKING WITHIN PATIENT CARE AND PUBLIC HEALTH: the weight-normative approach (emphasis on weight and weight loss when defining health and well-being) and the weight-inclusive approach (emphasis on viewing health and well-being as multifaceted while directing efforts toward improving health access and reducing weight stigma). Data reveal that the weight-normative approach is not effective for most people because of high rates of weight regain and cycling from weight loss interventions, which are linked to adverse health and well-being. Its predominant focus on weight may also foster stigma in health care and society, and data show that weight stigma is also linked to adverse health and well-being. In contrast, data support a weight-inclusive approach, which is included in models such as Health at Every Size for improving physical (e.g., blood pressure), behavioral (e.g., binge eating), and psychological (e.g., depression) indices, as well as acceptability of public health messages. Therefore, the weight-inclusive approach upholds nonmaleficience and beneficience, whereas the weight-normative approach does not. We offer a theoretical framework that organizes the research included in this review and discuss how it can guide research efforts and help health professionals intervene with their patients and community.
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Review Article
The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach
to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being
over Weight Loss
Tracy L. Tylka,1Rachel A. Annunziato,2Deb Burgard,3Sigrún Daníelsdóttir,4
Ellen Shuman,5Chad Davis,2and Rachel M. Calogero6
1Department of Psychology, e Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
2Department of Psychology, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA
3PsychologyPrivatePractice,LosAltos,CA94022,USA
4Directorate of Health, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
5Acoria—A Weigh Out Eating Disorder Treatment, Cincinnati, OH 45208, USA
6Department of Psychology, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NP, UK
Correspondence should be addressed to Tracy L. Tylka; tylka.@osu.edu
Received  January ; Revised  May ; Accepted  June ; Published  July 
Academic Editor: Robyn Sysko
Copyright ©  Tracy L. Tylka et al. is is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Using an ethical lens, this review evaluates two methods of working within patient care and public health: the weight-normative
approach (emphasis on weight and weight loss when dening health and well-being) and the weight-inclusive approach (emphasis
on viewing health and well-being as multifaceted while directing eorts toward improving health access and reducing weight
stigma). Data reveal that the weight-normative approach is not eective for most people because of high rates of weight regain
and cycling from weight loss interventions, which are linked to adverse health and well-being. Its predominant focus on weight
mayalsofosterstigmainhealthcareandsociety,anddatashowthatweightstigmaisalsolinkedtoadversehealthandwell-being.
In contrast, data support a weight-inclusive approach, which is included in models such as Health at Every Size for improving
physical (e.g., blood pressure), behavioral (e.g., binge eating), and psychological (e.g., depression) indices, as well as acceptability of
public health messages. erefore, the weight-inclusive approach upholds nonmalecience and benecience, whereas the weight-
normative approach does not. We oer a theoretical framework that organizes the research included in this review and discuss how
it can guide research eorts and help health professionals intervene with their patients and community.
1. Introduction
Jasmine is waiting in the exam room and her chart shows
that her weight today is up ve pounds from her last visit
twoyearsago,puttingherBMIat.Herbloodpressurewas
borderline high in contrast to the normal readings in previous
visits. Although Jasmines labs were normal in past visits, they
are out of date. When Dr. Johnson greets her today, Jasmine
seemsanxiousandtellsDr.Johnson,“Ialmostdidnotcome
in today knowing my weight is up from the last time I was here
and you suggested a diet. I feel like such a failure. However,
I need help for my migraines, so here I am.” Dr. Johnson and
Jasminelookateachother,thereisabeatofsilence,andthey
both sigh. Dr. Johnson thinks about all the moments like this
one. Usually patients are coming in reluctantly, with medical
issues that cannot wait any longer. ere is a palpable sense of
frustration about yet another problem related to high weight.
ere is a predictably tense discussion about what needs to
happen. Promises are made, referrals are given, and patients
drop out of sight until the next medical crisis that absolutely
cannot be ignored. Dr. Johnson cannot help but think, “Could
there be a better way?”
Weight management (i.e., weight loss and weight cycling)
is a central component of health improvement and health
care regimens in the United States and similarly westernized
countries. Regardless of whether or not it is relevant to
Hindawi Publishing Corporation
Journal of Obesity
Volume 2014, Article ID 983495, 18 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/983495
Journal of Obesity
the presenting concern, patients seeking medical evaluations
or treatment are typically evaluated rst on the basis of
their weight []. For example, primary care guidelines
recommend that higher-weight individuals with a BMI above
 should be provided with weight loss interventions and
nutritional advice automatically even if their presenting
concerns are unrelated to body weight [], whereas lower-
weight individuals may not be given a blood sugar evaluation
because they do not t the “high-risk prole” of a person
with type II diabetes []. A weight-centric emphasis in
medical care may overshadow patients’ health concerns and
needs, potentially leading to “false negatives” (i.e., failure
to diagnose a true condition because a patient’s weight is
classied as average) in addition to the “false positives” (i.e.,
misdiagnosing a healthy higher-weight patient as unhealthy,
thus prescribing weight loss).
e vignette above underscores the fact that many prac-
titioners and patients are frustrated and fatigued by this
process of pursuing weight loss and weight cycling [],
increased patient shame [], and intensied weight bias
from the health care provider []. Health professionals
are responsible for adhering to ethical principles in the care
of their patients, such as benecience (i.e., the obligation to
benet and contribute to optimum health for patients and
communities) and nonmalecience (i.e., the obligation to
avoidharmingpatientsandcommunities).Yet,thedominant
focus on weight loss and weight management may move
health care professionals away from these principles, creating
a dilemma in the delivery of ethical care and public health
promotion. is dilemma occurs because a weight-normative
approach to health emphasizes the pursuit of weight loss,
despite extensive evidence demonstrating that weight loss is
not sustainable long-term for most people []andweight
cycling (commonly associated with weight loss eorts) is
linked to adverse health [].
In this paper, we review evidence that challenges the
weight-normative approach for health promotion and oer
evidence to support a weight-inclusive approach for health
promotion. Instead of imagining that well-being is only
possible at a specic weight, a weight-inclusive approach con-
siders empirically supported practices that enhance people’s
health in patient care and public health settings regardless
ofwheretheyfallontheweightspectrum[,,]. ese
approaches dier in the emphasis each one places on weight.
Whilehealthcareprofessionalsusingeitherapproachmay
share some commonalities (e.g., recommending similar self-
care practices), they contrast in the relative importance they
place on body weight in the context of health and medical
treatment, their perceptions of the malleability of weight, and
how they respond to patients based on their weight.
Far from being radical, we view adopting a weight-
inclusiveapproachasmoreconservativethanaweight-
normative approach for facilitating health because it does not
recommend a treatment option that shows more documented
risks to patients than benets. Prescribing weight loss carries
the risk of adverse outcomes for adherents and lacks evidence
for sustainability over time, potentially setting many patients
onapathofweightcycling[,]. e weight-inclusive
approach acknowledges the scientic (albeit unpopular)
evidence that people have little choice about what they
weigh due to the interplay between involuntary genetic and
environmental factors (e.g., lacking access to nutrient-dense
foods priced outside of the family food budget) []. A
weight-inclusive approach attempts to improve patient access
to health care by recommending that health care providers
recognize weight-normative biases (e.g., stereotypes that
higher-weight patients must have, and lower-weight patients
do not have, diseases oen associated with obesity) and
practices (e.g., prescribing weight-loss diets to higher-weight
patients regardless of their physical health) within health care
settings and challenge them in their own interactions with
patients [,,]. Emerging over the last four decades, this
shi away from a weight-normative approach among many
health care professionals acknowledges the failure of weight
loss and weight management goals for improving health and
recognizes the many factors that do support human health
and well-being.
eissueofwhethertoadoptaweight-normativeor
weight-inclusive approach to health is not simply a philo-
sophical matter. Large-scale interventions designed to aect
masses of people are being implemented on the basis of
the weight-normative approach. A recent scopic review of
papers on the unintended harm caused by public health
interventions found that over a third of the papers cov-
ered the possible harmful eects of obesity-related public
health eorts []. Obesity-related public heath eorts were
identied as potentially harmful because they (a) have been
based on limited or poor quality evidence, (b) focus on
preventing one extreme outcome at the expense of another
extreme outcome (boomerang eects), (c) lack community
engagement, and (d) ignore the root cause of the problems.
Ifpursuitofthemostethicalandeectivepathwaystohealth
and well-being is the priority, and health care professionals
intend to uphold the principle of doing no harm, we argue
an alternative to the weight-normative approach is required.
In the following sections, we review the problems and
limitations of the weight-normative approach to health and
then highlight the weight-inclusive approach as an alternative
model for health care and health improvement.
2. The Weight-Normative Approach
We refer to the many principles and practices of health care
and health improvement that prioritize weight as a main
determinant of health as the weight-normative approach.
is approach rests on the assumption that weight and disease
are related in a linear fashion, with disease and weight
increasing in tandem. Under the weight-normative approach,
personal responsibility for “healthy lifestyle choices” and the
maintenance of “healthy weights” are emphasized. On the
basis of these beliefs, the weight-normative approach focuses
on weight loss and weight management to prevent and treat
amyriadofhealthproblems.Despitetheubiquitousand
pervasive nature of the weight-normative approach, we argue
that a critical examination of the evidence does not support
Journal of Obesity
suchafocusonweightandweightlosstoimprovehealthor
prevent obesity.
First, despite the widely held belief within the medical
community and general population that a higher body mass
index (BMI) causes poor health, data do not (and cannot)
support this link. e risk for mortality is highest for people
with BMIs <. (underweight) and BMIs > (obese II),
but lowest for people with BMIs  to < (overweight), and
the risk of those with BMIs . to < (average weight)
andBMIsto(obeseI)iscomparabletoandfalls
between the other groups []. Indeed, BMI is a corollary
of certain conditions such as osteoarthritis, sleep apnea,
hypertension, and coronary heart disease []. However,
the data available cannot conrm that BMI causes these
diseases, as causality can only be inferred via experimental
designs. Other factors oen partially or fully explain the links
between BMI and health, such as exercise, nutrition, insulin
resistance, and weight stigma [].
Second, the weight-normative approach bestows negative
judgments onto higher-weight individuals by promoting the
view that (a) higher-weight individuals are unhealthy and
thus a burden on society and (b) weight can be controlled
through will power and thus if a person is fat, then it is due
to poor lifestyle habits [,,]. Given these underlying
judgments, it is unsurprising that weight bias has been
documented in professionals from awide range of disciplines
including physicians, nurses, psychologists, and dieticians
[]. Yet, genetic and involuntary environmental contribu-
tions to body weight outweigh voluntary lifestyle choices
[,]. Body weight is defended by a powerful biological
system that reacts to a negative energy balance by lowering
metabolism and increasing hunger, food preoccupation, and
hedonic responses to food [,]. Longitudinal research has
found that children whose parents used restrictive feeding
have a higher likelihood of eating in the absence of hunger
andanelevatedBMIlaterinchildhood[]. Lower-
income families and communities may nd it impossible
to purchase high-quality nutrient-dense foods such as fresh
fruits and vegetables given their limited budget and/or access
to such foods [,,]. Instead, rened grains and
added sugars, fats, and preservatives are generally inex-
pensive and readily available in lower-income communities
[]. Furthermore, lower-income neighborhoods have
fewer physical activity resources, such as parks, green spaces,
bike paths, and recreational facilities when compared to
higher income neighborhoods [,]. Crime, trac, and
unsafe playground equipment are also barriers to physical
activity in lower-income communities [,]. us, there
areimportantlimitationsplacedonthedegreetowhich
body weight can be altered through voluntary action, making
public health messages to “maintain a healthy weight” appear
both uninformed and unfair.
ird, the promotion of “healthy weight” as the key
to health and well-being may instill a sense of learned
helplessness in the majority of people who will be unable
to attain these weight-based goals [,,,]. If attempts
to reach and maintain a “healthy” weight continually fail
orareseenasimpossiblegivenavailableresources,the
practice of healthy behaviors may be seen as futile. Overall,
there is considerable evidence that the focus on weight and
weight loss is linked to diminished health. In the following
sectionswereviewanumberoffailuresandaggravating
circumstances of the weight-normative approach to elucidate
why change is needed.
2.1. e Data behind the Failure of Weight Loss Interven-
tions. Rising weight trends in western societies have created
an intense focus on weight loss initiatives, but none have
generated long-term results for the majority of participants.
As stated by Jeery and colleagues, despite a plethora of
interventions that result in initial weight loss, participants
“almost always fail to maintain the behavior changes that
brought them these positive results” []. For example, it
has been estimated that no more than % of participants
who complete weight-based lifestyle interventions maintain
weight loss one year later [], and the percentage of people
maintaining weight loss continues to drop by the second
year []. A meta-analysis of  studies on structured weight
lossprogramsconductedintheUnitedStatesfoundthat
participants regained % of their initial weight loss, on
average, aer ve years []. As it stands, these outcomes
are disheartening and not encouraging, but if we actually
critically evaluate these studies, it is likely that the statistics
for maintenance of weight loss are even worse. at is, most of
these statistics are taken from published studies and therefore
may represent the most “promising” ndings in terms of
weight maintenance and omit data from the people who
drop out and are more likely to have regained weight. Also,
these studies tend to be based on rigorous trials of weight
loss programs at the exclusion of more commonly employed
strategies and have rigid exclusion criteria (e.g., comorbidities
such as mood disorders or binge eating disorder).
2.2. e Data behind the Dangers of Weight Cycling. Oen
diet failure is accompanied by weight cycling or “yo-yo
dieting”—repeated periods of weight loss and weight gain
[]. Twenty years ago, Brownell and Rodin published a foun-
dational paper reviewing adverse medical, metabolic, and
psychological health outcomes linked to weight cycling [,
]. Indeed, a large body of literature has connected weight
cycling directly to compromised health, including higher
mortality, higher risk of osteoporotic fractures and gallstone
attacks, loss of muscle tissue [], hypertension [], chronic
inammation [], and some forms of cancer such as renal
cell carcinoma, endometrial cancer, and non-Hodgkins lym-
phoma []. Here, we highlight two seminal contributions
to our understanding of this link between weight cycling
and compromised health. e landmark Framingham Heart
Study was perhaps one of the most jarring indictments of
weight cycling []. Using a sophisticated denition of weight
cycling (capturing frequency and magnitude of uctuations),
mortality and morbidity were examined in more than 
individuals over a -year period. Results indicated that
weight cycling was strongly linked to overall mortality, as
well as mortality and morbidity related to coronary heart
disease for both men and women. Similar results were found
in the EFFORT cohort study conducted in Germany [],
Journal of Obesity
which only included men, a generally underrepresented
population in the weight cycling literature. In this study, 
middle-aged men were grouped into the weight categories of
stable nonobese, stable obese, weight loss, weight gain, and
weight uctuations. Among these groupings, only the weight
uctuations category was associated with mortality over the
-year follow-up period. Of greatest interest, the stable obese
category was not linked to higher risk of death relative to the
stable nonobese category.
Weight cycling also has been shown to be connected
to compromised physical health and psychological well-
being. In an experimental study, Leibel et al. revealed that
prospective weight loss led to reductions in metabolic energy
expenditure []. e authors suggested that this reduction
would make it dicult for their participants to maintain
their newly suppressed weight. Research has shown that in
order to maintain current BMI, formerly overweight dieters
must eat less than their same-BMI counterparts who were
never overweight []. As an illustration, a formerly obese
woman with a BMI of  might be restricted to  kcal/day,
whereas a woman with a BMI of  who was never obese
mightbeabletoeatasmuchaskcal/day.eformerly
obese woman might therefore have to employ more rigid
dietary habits in order to make sure that her calories do
not exceed  kcal/day. Further evidence for a metabolic
disruption was demonstrated in a study of  Korean
women who participated in a community-based weight loss
program []. ose with a history of weight cycling (%
of the sample) lost more lean muscle mass but not more
body fat and lagged behind in positive changes to body
composition and cholesterol, compared to their nonweight
cycling counterparts, despite having lost a similar amount of
weight overall.
Greater emotional distress was found to be connected to
weight cycling among men and women, especially those who
expected to have more personal and social success when thin
(e.g., “I will be more successful, loved, desired, and healthy
once I am thin/lean”), a mindset that the weight-normative
approach cultivates []. Similarly, based on participants
from the large Nurses’ Health Study II, Field and colleagues
found that women with a weight cycling history (% of
the sample) gained more weight over time and engaged
in less physical activity but more binge eating than their
noncycling peers []. Another recent study found that
weight cycling is common among African American women
(% of the sample) and is associated with poor psychological
outcomes, such as binge eating, thinness expectations, and
self-esteem []. Overall, research conducted around the
worldforthepastyearshasrepeatedlyshownthatweight
cycling is inextricably linked to adverse physical health and
psychological well-being.
2.3. e Risk of Eating Disorders in the Maintenance of Weight
Loss. ere is growing evidence that individuals who try to
achieve and maintain a weight-suppressed state are at risk for
binge eating disorder [,]andbulimianervosa[,],
likely because of the dietary rigidity needed to maintain a
weight-suppressedstateandthebingeeatingthatmayfollow
once the diet is “broken.” Leading researchers have found that
rigid dieting is usually disrupted by episodes of overeating
[,] and is associated with eating in the absence of hunger
[] in experimental research. In some individuals, these
temporary losses of control are accompanied by subsequent
behaviors employed to compensate for calories consumed
during a binge episode (e.g., vomiting, laxative misuse,
excessive exercise, and fasting) []. Abrupt disruptions
in caloric expenditures brought on by binge eating and the
use of compensatory behaviors may also be linked to weight
cyclingandtheassociatednegativeoutcomesdescribedabove
[,].
Furthermore, attempts to suppress weight are associated
with poorer outcomes in treating patients with bulimia: those
who have bulimia who try to maintain a weight-suppressed
state are likely to binge eat [], gain weight [,], and drop
outofpsychotherapeutictreatment[]. Notably, behavioral
weight loss (BWL) has been considered one treatment option
for binge eating disorder (BED). A rigorous examination of
three approaches to treat BED found that individuals with
BED who were randomly assigned to a BWL treatment group
experienced a small reduction (Cohen’s 𝑑 = 0.25)inBMI
aer treatment but did not maintain this reduction one year
or two years later []. e other two treatment approaches
(interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral ther-
apy) did not reduce participants BMI from baseline to the
follow-up periods. While the other two treatment approaches
reducedbingeeating,BWLdidnot.
It stands to reason, then, that weight suppression and food
restriction should not be goals of treatment. Since dieting has
been associated with the onset and maintenance of eating
disorders, and the cessation of dieting is a crucial step in
the treatment of eating disorders, encouraging higher-weight
patients to enter a weight-suppressed state by dieting is likely
physically harmful and hence violates professional codes of
ethics [].
2.4. Heightened Weight Stigma under the Weight-Normative
Approach. e emphasis on achieving a “healthy” weight
implies that there is a healthy or normal weight that each of us
should be striving to attain and maintain. Moreover, the med-
ical endorsement of normative weights gives credibility to
cultural messages prizing thinness (for women), leanness (for
men), and weight loss. Internalization of socially prescribed
bodyidealsisrelatedtobodyshame,bodydissatisfaction,
eating disorders for women [,], and potentially
harmful muscle-enhancing and disordered eating behaviors
for men []. e medical and cultural emphasis on “good
weights” and “bad weights” produces the opportunity for
weight stigma.
Weight stigma refers to negative weight-related attitudes
and beliefs that manifest as stereotypes, rejection, prejudice,
and discrimination towards individuals of higher weights
[]. ere are many forms of weight stigma [], includ-
ing repeated weight-related teasing, bullying, harassment,
violence, hostility, ostracism, pressures to lose weight/be
thin, negative appearance commentary, and weight-related
Journal of Obesity
microaggressions. Microaggressions are intentional or unin-
tentional verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities
that communicate hostility or negativity toward people who
hold less power in society []. For example, suggesting a diet
to a patient when the patient came in for a concern unrelated
to weight would be a weight-related microaggression. Com-
plimentary weightism, or appearance-related compliments
(e.g., Telling a patient, “You’ve lost weight...looking good!”),
is also stigmatizing because although seemingly positive on
thesurface,itstillmarkspeopleasgoodorbadbasedontheir
weight [].
Weight stigma occurs across a range of life domains,
including school settings (higher-weight children are oen
stigmatized by peers, classmates, teachers, and school admin-
istrators) [], health care environments (higher-weight
patients are stigmatized by healthcare professionals and
insurance companies) [], public health initiatives [,
,], workplace settings (higher-weight employees are
judged negatively by coworkers, supervisors, and employers)
[,], and interpersonally by loved ones (intimate part-
ners, friends, and parents) [,]. Some obstetricians and
gynecologists in southern Florida have refused to perform
medical services for women over  lbs []. In a large
sample of women who were classied as overweight or obese,
% experienced weight bias by a physician (with over half
reporting bias on multiple occasions), % from nurses, %
from dietitians, and % from health professionals [].
Psychologists have been found to ascribe more pathology,
greater severity of symptoms, and worse prognosis to obese
patients when compared to thinner patients presenting
with identical psychological proles []. Weight stigma
is also manifested in sociostructural barriers to accessing
medical care (e.g., insurance companies that will not cover
higher-weight individuals), and within the medical setting,
barriers to appropriately sized equipment [,]. Health
care professionals’ ignorance about the medical needs of
higher-weight individuals, such as appropriate surgical pro-
cedures or proper dosages of medicine and chemotherapy
for higher-weight individuals, is also a form of weight stigma
[].
Ironically, many professionals who treat obesity []
and eating disorders [] exhibit weight bias towards their
patients. Health professionals who specialize in the eld
of obesity and weight-loss treatment demonstrate varying
degrees of antifat bias, attributing negative stereotypes such
as lazy, stupid, and worthless to higher-weight people [].
Among professionals treating eating disorders, % observed
other professionals in their eld making negative comments
about obese patients, % believed that practitioners who
treat eating disorders oen hold negative stereotypes about
obese patients, and % indicated that practitioners feel
uncomfortable caring for those who are obese []. Eating
disorder professionals with stronger weight stigma were
more likely to attribute obesity to behavioral causes and
perceived poorer treatment outcomes for these patients.
When health providers attribute weight-related stereotypes
to their patients, it aects the quality of care that patients
along the weight spectrum receive. Experiencing weight bias
in health care settings may discourage higher-weight patients
from making prohealth lifestyle changes and seeking routine
or preventative care and encourage lower psychological well-
being [,,].
Duetothefocusonweightevaluationandprivileging
thinness, even lower-weight individuals could experience
weight-related stigma and microaggressions. For example,
lower-weight individuals may be told that they are “hated”
because they can “eat anything and still be thin,” harming
their interpersonal relationships. Health care professionals
may ignore lower-weight individuals’ symptoms suggestive
of sleep apnea and type II diabetes because they do not t
the “weight prole” tied to these conditions. Even patients
who are not “agged” for their weight may be engaging
in disordered eating behaviors that are detrimental to their
health (e.g., the BMI of those who have bulimia is usually in
the average range []).
Using national survey data with a -year follow-up,
Schafer and Ferraro found that societal weight stigma is
linked to internalized weight stigma []. Internalized weight
stigma refers to the degree to which individuals personally
adopt negative weight-based societal stereotypes and judge
themselves and others based on these stereotypes [,,].
is self-judgment may foster body blame and body shame
(e.g.,“IfonlyIwasntsolarge,IwouldnotbeteasedIam
therefore ashamed of my body”) and appearance monitoring
(e.g., vigilant about wearing slimming clothing to prevent
others’ from stigmatizing her body). Internalized weight bias
is not related to BMI; thus, a person of any weight can
experience and internalize weight bias and discrimination
[].
It is important to understand the associations between
weight stigma and diminished health and well-being.
Although research has challenged the assumption that high
BMI causes disease, these variables do covary. One explana-
tion for why they might covary is the experience of weight
stigma []. Weight stigma is associated with increased
caloric consumption, a pattern which challenges the com-
mon wisdom that pressures to lose weight will motivate
overweight individuals to lose weight []. Across a -
year longitudinal study of a large, nationally representative
study of community adults, those who experienced weight
stigma were . times more likely than those who were
not stigmatized to become obese []. Priming overweight
women to think about weight-related stereotypes (i.e., induc-
ing weight stigma) led them to report signicantly dimin-
ished exercise and dietary health intentions []. Further,
Schafer and Ferraro found that weight stigma was related to
increased health risks that are typically attributed to being
obese, such as functional disability and decreased self-rated
health,overa-yearperiod[]. e evidence further
indicates that weight stigma is related to elevated ambulatory
blood pressure [], unhealthy weight control and binge
eating behaviors [], bulimic symptoms [], nega-
tive body image [], low self-esteem [,], and
depression [,,] among children, adolescents, and
adults.
Journal of Obesity
3. The Weight-Inclusive Approach
As an alternative to the weight-normative paradigm, the
weight-inclusive approach rests on the assumption that every-
body is capable of achieving health and well-being indepen-
dent of weight, given access to nonstigmatizing health care.
is approach challenges the belief that a particular BMI
reects a particular set of health practices, health status, or
moral character. Under this paradigm, weight is not a focal
point for medical treatment or intervention. Weight is not
viewed as a behavior, but eating nutritious food when hungry,
ceasing to eat when full, and engaging in pleasurable (and
thus more sustainable) exercise are self-care behaviors that
can be made more accessible for people. In these ways, this
approach also tries to minimize weight stigma and thus may
help patients feel comfortable in the health care setting, more
able to discuss their health concerns, and less likely to expe-
rience the health care encounter as stigmatizing by health
care providers []. e weight-inclusive approach adheres to
an ethical principle held by health care professions []:
“above all, do no harm.” Accordingly, then, there are no set
health-related interventions that prioritize BMI reduction as
a goal, given that a predominant focus on BMI reduction
is linked to weight stigma and internalized weight stigma,
which have detrimental connections to physical health and
well-being [,,,,].
A weight-inclusive approach seeks to (a) eradicate
weight-based iatrogenic practices within health care and
other health-related industries and (b) end the stigmatization
of health problems (i.e., healthism), thereby facilitating access
to health care for all individuals [,,]. In taking
this approach, the blame for the failure to lose weight is
placed on the deleterious process of weight loss rather than
on the individual, which may help minimize internalized
weight stigma []. e weight-inclusive approach follows
some general a priori principles for health professionals [,
,]. ese principles combine in various ways and in
various applications in terms of policy making, the provision
of health care within practice and the community, and the
patient’s personal decision-making about her or his own well-
being [,,].
()Donoharm.
() Appreciate that bodies naturally come in a variety
of shapes and sizes, and ensure optimal health and
well-being is provided to everyone, regardless of their
weight.
() Given that health is multidimensional, maintain a
holistic focus (i.e., examine a number of behavioral
and modiable health indices rather than a predomi-
nant focus on weight/weight loss).
() Encourage a process-focus (rather than end-goals) for
day-to-day quality of life. For example, people can
notice what makes their bodies rested and energetic
todayandincorporatethatintofuturebehavior,but
also notice if it changes; they realize that well-being is
dynamicratherthanxed.eykeepadjustingwhat
they know about their changing bodies.
() Critically evaluate the empirical evidence for weight
loss treatments and incorporate sustainable, empiri-
cally supported practices into prevention and treat-
ment eorts, calling for more research where the
evidence is weak or absent.
() Create healthful, individualized practices and envi-
ronments that are sustainable (e.g., regular pleasur-
able exercise, regular intake of foods high in nutrients,
adequate sleep and rest, adequate hydration). Where
possible, work with families, schools, and commu-
nities to provide safe physical activity resources and
ways to improve access to nutrient-dense foods.
() Where possible, work to increase health access,
autonomy, and social justice for all individuals along
theentireweightspectrum.Trustthatpeoplemove
toward greater health when given access to stigma-
free health care and opportunities (e.g., gyms with
equipment for people of all sizes; trainers who focus
on increments in strength, exibility, V Max, and
pleasure rather than weight and weight loss).
ere are many models which include a weight-inclusive
emphasis, some more fragmentary, some more comprehen-
sive, some more focused on research evidence, some more
reliant on clinical experience (while proponents lobby for
new research conceptualizations and trials), and some more
focusedonpolicyandsocialjusticewhileotherstarget
individual health behaviors. Such models include Health at
Every Size (HAES) [,,,,], Health in Every Respect
[], and Physical Activity at Every Size []. For the purposes
of this paper, we explore one version in more depth, the
Health at Every Size (HAES) model, as trademarked and
dened by the Association for Size Diversity and Health
(ASDAH) [].
3.1. Health at Every Size. e HAES model comes out of dis-
cussions among healthcare workers, consumers, and activists
whorejecttheuseofweight,size,orBMIasaproxyfor
health and reject the myth that weight is a result of personal
choices independent of uncontrollable or involuntary genetic
and environmental factors [,,,,,]. e HAES
model addresses the broad forces that support health, such
as safe and aordable access to care. It also helps people nd
sustainable practices that support individual and community
well-being. Grounding itself in a social justice framework, the
HAES model honors the healing power of social connections
and evolves in response to the experiences and needs of a
diverse community.
e HAES model (see Figure ) rests on the evidence
that while there are links between extremes of weight and
health problems, evidence for the role of factors other than
weight in peoples health is stronger []. HAES further
arms a holistic denition of health, which cannot be
characterized as simply the absence of physical or mental
illness, limitation, or disease, but also the presence of
quality of life (e.g., life satisfaction), which is needed for
physical health and psychological well-being [,,].
Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity
Journal of Obesity
Applied to policy
Provide environments that
give access to all the things
that support the well-being
of human bodies of all sizes
Principles
(1) Do no harm (5) Include all bodies and lived experiences, a norm of diversity
(2) Create practices and environments that are sustainable (6) Increase access, opportunity, freedom, and social justice
(3) Keep a process focus rather than end-goals, day-to-day
quality of life
(7) Given that health is multidimensional, maintain a
holistic focus
(4) Incorporate evidence in designing interventions
where there is evidence
(8) Trust that people (and bodies!) move toward greater
health given access and opportunity
Denition
A model to support the health of people across the weight spectrum that challenges the current cultural
oppression of higher-weight people. Specically, the model seeks to end (1) the stigmatizing of health
problems (healthism) and (2) weight-based discrimination, bias, and iatrogenic practices within health care
and other health-related industries, as well as other areas of life. e model acknowledges that weight is not
a behavior or personal choice and that normal human bodies come in a wide range of weights and seeks
alternatives to the overwhelmingly futile and harmful practice of pursuing weight loss.
Within health care
Provide health interventions
that give benet to people at
any size, without
discrimination or bias
In personal life
Provide yourself with the
features of life you nd
sustainable, within the
context of your life, that
support your well-being
Examples Examples Examples
Recess for all ages, abilities and sizes
Living wages to provide time for self-care
Nourishing, aordable, and accessible food
An end to weight discrimination in schools,
insurance, workplaces, housing and so forth
Regulation of weight loss advertising
Support for communities and social networks
Community involvement in making policy
Medical research and education in health
needs of higher-weight people
Redress of structural racism and inequality
Medical education on “best practices” for
providing health care to higher-weight people
Assist patients in developing long-term health
practices rather than pursuing weight loss
End BMI-based treatment decisions
all participants in weight-change interventions
and benets for the majority before use
Base practice on the lived experiences of
patients: listen and learn
Defend the therapeutic relationship
Reconnect with your body’s cues to make
decisions about what you need now
Find playful and/or purposeful motives for
moving that are not tied to weight loss goals
When hurt, direct your anger to the person
who hurt you rather than blaming your body
Look for direct ways to improve life and
health that do not require a thinner body
Find others who are opting out of weight
cycling and developing sustainable practices
Know your worth is not based on health
Require >5 yrs of maintenance/outcomes for
F : Health at Every Size (HAES): a model using a weight-inclusive approach.
available to all regardless of health condition, ability level,
or social class, and not as an outcome or objective of
living. Pursuing health is neither a moral imperative nor
an individual obligation, and health status should never
be used to judge, oppress, or determine the value of an
individual. ereby HAES upholds the ethical principles of
benecience and nonmalecience by focusing on eradicating
weight stigma, honoring human dierences (size diversity),
and pursuing empirically supported interventions that
promote physical health and psychological well-being (see
Journal of Obesity
https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=/
for HAES Principles []).
Consistent with a weight-inclusive emphasis, HAES oers
concrete suggestions for how to manage decisions about
food and exercise in the aermath (or absence) of a dieting
mindset. HAES advocates for intuitive eating, based on
evidence that demonstrates greater well-being for people
whoattendandrespondtophysiologicalhungerandsatiety
cues to determine when and how much to eat, and who
pay attention to how certain foods aect the body (e.g.,
in terms of energy level, stamina, and medical issues such
as diabetes and food allergies) [,]. Because such
individuals eat according to their internal cues the majority
of the time, intuitive eating may be able to buer situational
and/or dissociative eating within environments that contain
many opportunities to eat less nutritiously (e.g., fast-food
restaurants, bakeries, convenience marts, etc.) []. Never-
theless, lack of sleep may disrupt hunger and satiety cues as
it interferes with the body’s leptin and ghrelin levels [], so
helping patients ensure they get adequate rest may be a goal
for intervention. Years of dieting and/or the experience of
clinical eating disorders may also disrupt patients’ awareness
of and trust in their hunger and satiety cues, and thus
interventions may be needed to help patients recognize and
rely on these cues []. HAES also argues for pleasurable
movement based on evidence that exercising for pleasure
in lieu of weight loss is linked to well-being and positive
body image []. ese two particular recommendations
aregivenbecausepeoplehavebeeneducatedtodietand
exercise for weight loss and sometimes they need concrete
suggestions about how to proceed toward adaptive eating
and exercise. Being compliant or rebellious about pursuing
weight loss is replaced by a return to a process that honors
the body’s physiological signals of hunger, satiety, and need
for movement.
3.2. e Data behind the Weight-Inclusive Approach. In
addition to the data that speak against a weight-normative
approach to health, there are also data in support of a weight-
inclusive approach. Most of this research has focused on the
HAES model and tested it against models which empha-
size the weight-normative approach. Bacon and Aphramor
reviewed the six existing randomized controlled trials of this
research []. e inclusion criteria for the studies included
publication in a peer-reviewed journal and an explicit focus
on self-acceptance within the HAES intervention. e HAES
modelresultedinbothstatisticallyandclinicallysignicant
improvements for the participants on physiological measures
(e.g., blood pressure), health practices (e.g., increased phys-
ical activity), and psychological measures (e.g., self-esteem
and disordered eating). HAES achieved these health improve-
ments more successfully than models that emphasize dieting.
e participants within the HAES groups also demonstrated
increased adherence (reduced dropout rates) and no adverse
outcomes [].
To take one illustrative example, a HAES-based program
that emphasized intuitive eating and size acceptance was
evaluated against a dieting-based weight-loss program with
asampleof-to-year-oldwomenclassiedasoverweight
or obese [,]. Participants within each program received
six months of weekly group interventions followed by six
months of monthly aercare group support. Findings yielded
more positive results for the HAES-based program over the -
year []and-year[] follow-ups. Specically, the HAES
group decreased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein
(LDL cholesterol), triglycerides, and systolic blood pressure
at the -year follow-up and sustained improvements from the
-year to -year follow-ups. Whereas the dieting group lost
weight and showed initial improvements on many variables
at the -year follow up, they had regained weight and did not
sustain improvement at the -year follow- up []. e HAES
group decreased eating restraint, physical hunger rating,
disinhibited eating, drive for thinness, bulimic symptoma-
tology, body dissatisfaction, poor interoceptive awareness,
depression, and body image avoidance and increased self-
esteem at both -year and -year follow-up. Correspondingly,
participants in the dieting-based program only reduced
disinhibited eating but reported decreased self-esteem [].
Furthermore, attrition was higher in the diet group (%)
compared to the HAES group (%) [,]. ese ndings
suggest that HAES-based interventions demonstrate better
adherence to practices that promote physical health and
psychological well-being than dieting-based interventions,
andtheseeectscanbesustainedovertime.
efocusonweightlossintheweight-normative
approachcouldbeunderstoodbypatientsaspromotingthin-
ness as a goal, whereas the idealization of thinness (i.e., thin-
ideal internalization) and pursuit of thinness are challenged
within the weight-inclusive approach. Research on secondary
eating disorder prevention eorts has also provided evidence
insupportoftheweight-inclusiveapproach.Forexample,
in their program of research on the Body Project,Sticeand
Presnell examined whether reducing participants’ thin-ideal
internalization and focus on weight loss would reduce their
dysfunctional eating attitudes and behaviors []. In this
program, participants engaged in a series of verbal, written,
and behavioral exercises in which they actively critiqued the
thin ideal. ese exercises were intended to produce cognitive
dissonance, such that their original attitudes (e.g., “I want
to be thin,” “only if I am thin will I be beautiful”) would
conict with their recent behavior (e.g., role playing where
they convince other girls that many body types are beautiful).
To decrease their cognitive dissonance, participants changed
their original prothinness and proweight loss attitudes to
make them t with their recent behavior of rejecting the thin
ideal. Overall, the Body Project has been eective in helping
early-to-late adolescent girls reduce their pursuit of the thin
ideal, accept their bodies, improve mood, decrease eating
disorder symptoms (e.g., binge eating and use of unhealthy
weight control behaviors), and lower the risk for developing
future symptoms [].
3.3. Reducing Weight Stigma under the Weight-Inclusive
Approach: A Model and Strategies. Health care professionals
need to work to reduce cultural and interpersonal weight
stigma within health care and their patients’ environments
Journal of Obesity
Weight
stigma
Internalized
weight
stigma
Body shame
Appearance
monitoring
Decreased
psychological
well-being
Decreased
physical
health
F : eoretical model of weight stigma and its associated variables.
in order to facilitate the processes that bolster physical health
and psychological well-being. On the basis of the evidence for
the links between weight stigma and adverse health and well-
being reviewed previously [,], and the intervening
variablesthatcouldhelpexplaintheselinks,wedeviseda
theoretical model (see Figure ) that organizes these variables
andtheassociationsbetweenthem.ismodelcanbeusedto
help health care professionals identify points of intervention
to reduce weight stigma and the other model variables that
may maintain lower physical health and well-being.
Similar to other theoretical models that positioned socio-
cultural inuences as the source for negative body image and
dysfunctional self-care behaviors [], we positioned
weight stigma as the starting point for negative health. In
light of weight stigmas associations with internalized weight
stigma [], lower physical health [,], lower psy-
chological well-being [], body blame and shame [
],andappearancemonitoring[,], proponents of the
weight-inclusive approach challenge health care providers to
examine their own biases around weight. ese biases are part
of a wider cultural climate of weight stigma that pervades
health care education and everyday life. It is possible that
much of the healing power of the health care relationship
is social—in the quality of the connection between health
care providers and their patients and their mutual trust and
regard [].isconnectionisthreatenedforpatientsby
the experience of being stereotyped and reduced to a BMI
category. Quality of care for higher-weight patients can be
optimized by adopting eective and sensitive strategies to
communicate with all patients along the weight continuum
[,]. Given the enormous social pressures to focus on
weight loss and to connect weight loss to health, we know
that providers, even those with the best of intentions, may
unintentionally give the impression that they are biased
against higher-weight patients, leaving their patients feeling
unwelcome, invisible, and shamed.
One way health care professionals could engage with
higher-weight patients is to view their oce environment
through a weight-inclusive lens. Does the oce set-up com-
municate to all patients that their healthcare needs will be
met there without shame or discrimination? Or is the oce
stigmatizing from the moment they arrive? For example,
do waiting and exam rooms have furniture that ts higher-
weight individuals? Do oce sta automatically weigh in
every patient, on a scale in a public hallway, even if the
patient is coming in for an issue totally unrelated to weight,
for example, a wart removal? How do nurses respond when
a patient says, “no thank you” to being weighed? What is
the oce culture around weight? Has weight bias ever been
addressed by the entire sta, such as through continuing
education or sensitivity training? Are gowns and medical
equipment (e.g., blood pressure cus) stocked to t higher-
weight patients?
By being a source of support and “grounding” against
the stigma higher-weight patients regularly face, the weight-
inclusive approach may facilitate patient adherence to health
promoting practices and the guidance of their health care
providers. Health care professionals can oer this support
through the provider-patient bond and by connecting indi-
viduals via support groups (in person or online) that follow
the weight-inclusive approach. For example, HAES has a
website that could be useful to recommend for patients
(http://www.haescommunity.org/). Table  provides a list of
weight-inclusive principles and examples of how health care
providers can implement them in practice. We recognize that
various health care professionals need to work as a team
to fully implement these principles, with each professional
implementing the principles within her or his boundaries of
expertise.
In addition to the above strategies, a weight-inclusive
approach includes a focus on intrapersonal variables that
sustain poor physical health and well-being (see Figure ).
For instance, health care professionals can become educated
about the links between internalized weight stigma and poor
self-care that maintain adverse physical health and negative
psychological well-being [,,,], for example,
and share this knowledge with their patients. Health care
professionals can also inform patients of the rich literature
that explicates the bidirectional inuences between physical
health and well-being []. at is, if patients begin self-
care practices that enhance physical health, they will likely feel
better psychologically as well, and these psychological gains
are then linked to further increases in self-care practices that
enhance health.
 Journal of Obesity
T : Translating weight-inclusive principles into weight-inclusive practice.
Weight-inclusive principle Weight-inclusive practice
() Eradicate weight stigma
Conduct trainings to inform other health care professionals about the weight-inclusive
approach. Ensure medical oces have medical supplies and accommodations for all patients
across the weight spectrum. Talk with patients’ families, friends, and partners about the types
of comments that are stigmatizing and negatively impacting the health of their loved ones.
Promote the weight-inclusive approach and strategies for following it.
Allhealthcareprofessionals.
() Target internalized weight
stigma
Help patients reduce placing blame on their bodies (and others’ bodies). Challenge adoption of
societal appearance ideals. Consider conducting cognitive dissonance interventions (e.g.,
[]) to lessen adherence to unrealistic appearance ideals.
Mental health professionals
() Target body shame
Help lessen patients’ embarrassment, hatred, and dissatisfaction toward their bodies by helping
them dene “beauty” more broadly and to appreciate their bodies. Cognitive dissonance
interventions may help increase body appreciation.
Mental health professionals
() Redirect focus from external
critique of weight and size to a
“partnership” with the body
Direct attention to what is happening within their bodies rather than “picking apart” their
appearance (e.g., lumps, appearance of moles, lack of energy, shortness of breath, etc.). is
partnership with their bodies may help detect and prevent the progression of disease.
Physicians
() Look for signs of diminished
well-being
Present options to alleviate distress and heighten life satisfaction; options should not be limited
to medication. Know mental health professionals who follow a weight-inclusive approach in
the community and refer patients as needed.
Physicians
() Look for signs of disordered,
emotional, and/or binge eating
Rather than BMI, explore each patients weight trajectory across time to detect unusual gains
and losses that could be reective of disordered eating.
Do not praise weight loss.
Do not immediately address weight gain with weight loss recommendations.
Physicians
Explore with patients whether there is a connection between disordered eating patterns and
emotional regulation. For instance, if they report bingeing behaviors, ask about how they felt at
the time and contextual factors. If there is a connection, distress tolerance and mindfulness
interventions (e.g., Acceptance and Commitment erapy) may be helpful.
Mental health professionals
() Respond to requests for weight
loss advice with a holistic approach
Respond (when asked by patients for advice or help with weight loss) with a holistic approach
to health via encompassing and encouraging emotional, physical, nutritional, social, and
spiritual health, rather than a weight-focus.
Physicians, nutritionists
() Sustain health promoting
practices
Identify and facilitate access to healthy sustainable behaviors for patients.
Allhealthcareprofessionals
() Reconnect with food and
internal cues
Help patients (a) abandon dichotomous thinking about foods as “good” and “bad” and the
morality surrounding food restriction, (b) relearn how to recognize and respond to their
hunger and satiety cues, and (c) determine how certain foods aect their bodies.
Nutritionists
Health care professionals who may want to take the lead in implementing this principle within their practice. We encourage a team approach whereby
physicians, mental health professionals, and nutritionists work together to ensure that a weight-inclusive approach is followed.
Health care professionals can also target internalized
weight stigmas links with body shame and appearance mon-
itoring (see Figure ). In particular, patients oen blame and
shame their bodies for how they look and feel, but body blame
and shame are oen responses to the wider cultural stigma
around weight and their personal experiences of weight
discrimination over their lifetimes []. Body blame
and shame can be reframed for patients to communicate
that the source is likely internalized societal weight stigma
[,] from being stigmatized for their weight [],
and not their bodies’ actual weight or size []. Health
care professionals can also help patients mentally shi from
habitual appearance monitoring, which is associated with
lower self-care and ignoring physical health [,,],
to attending to their bodies in more positive ways that
emphasize self-care. ere are some interventions (e.g., self-
compassion) that can enhance patients’ well-being in tandem
with improvements in body shame []. e key is for both
health care professionals and patients to appreciate the extent
towhichbodyloathingandshameisassociatedwithreduced
engagement in self-care [,]. ere is a cultural belief that
people have to be dissatised with their weight (or any aspect
of their appearance) in order to be motivated to improve it.
is belief has not found general support in the literature; in
Journal of Obesity 
fact, the reverse is supported: people are more likely to take
care of their bodies when they appreciate and hold positive
feelings toward their bodies [,,].
In order to encourage self-care behaviors, patients also
need to reconnect with their bodies, that is, focus on internal
body awareness rather than engage in external appearance
monitoring [,,,](seeFigure ). Internal body
awareness is required to be able to know when something
is “not right” with their bodies as well as attend to their
bodies’ physical and psychological needs []. For example,
awareness of hunger and satiety cues is needed to determine
when and how much to eat in order to prevent under- or
overeating [,].Raisinginternalbodilyawarenesscould
be facilitated by oering unconditional acceptance of peoples
bodies and bodily experience in lieu of weight stigmatization.
Indeed, women who received body acceptance by others (in
contrast to weight stigma) reported higher body appreciation
andlesshabitualappearancemonitoring[,]; thus, they
are more connected to the functionality of their bodies and
less shameful of their bodies. Moreover, body acceptance by
others fully accounted for the link between women’s BMI
and their body appreciation []. is nding underscores
the need to eradicate all health care interventions that foster
weight stigma to improve patients’ perceptions that the health
care environment and health care professionals accept their
bodies. Greater internal awareness and appreciating the body
arerelatedtohighereatingbasedonphysiologicalhunger
and satiety cues and less situational and emotional eating
[,]—additional reasons for health care professionals to
encourage clients to appreciate their bodies and listen to their
bodies’ internal cues.
3.4. A Weight-Inclusive Approach to Public Health. e cur-
rent public health model operates through the identication
of risk factors and population-based eorts to reduce such
risks in order to prevent disease and promote health [].
e reduction of risk factors occurs through various forms
of public action, including regulatory eorts (e.g., taxing
and legislation), community-based universal programs (e.g.,
Health Promoting Schools), and public health messaging
to raise awareness of the risks and benets associated with
certain behaviors (e.g., “5-a-day”). However, this model has
been criticized for focusing too heavily on factors that are
perceived to be under personal control while neglecting the
larger sociocultural and economic conditions that dictate
much of peoples lived experiences, choices, and opportuni-
ties [,].
Syme pointed out that the conditions oen referred to
as “lifestyle diseases,” under which overweight and obesity
arenamed,havebeenassociatedwithavarietyofgenetic
and environmental factors that occur well outside personal
control []. is lack of control is especially true for
populations that face most health challenges. Populations
with the worst health outcomes tend to also be populations
living under the most socioeconomic constraints and have
the least amount of personal control over their lives [].
Marmot has written extensively about the contributions of
social and economic inequalities to public health issues and
the critical importance of considering these issues in public
health policy []. Disregard for the environment within
which people live oers “a rather decontextualized” approach
to public health that is unlikely to be eective and may even
be unethical due to the potential for harm [].
An approach to public health that incorporates a weight-
inclusive approach may not only circumvent the adverse
health and well-being consequences linked to the weight-
normative approach but also may enhance population health.
Longitudinal studies have repeatedly shown that, irrespec-
tive of actual weight, body satisfaction and freedom from
weight-based teasing and stigma are linked to reduced risk
for unhealthy dieting practices, sedentary behaviors, eating
disturbances, and weight gain among young people [,,
]. Public health messages that are free of weight focus also
appear to be more acceptable to the public and more likely
to encourage healthy behaviors than messages emphasizing
weight control or obesity prevention. For example, a large
nationally representative U.S. survey revealed that partici-
pants responded most favorably to public health messages
that promoted healthy behaviors without any reference to
weight or obesity at all []. e survey further showed that
messages perceived as weight stigmatizing were negatively
received and rated less likely to foster healthy behavior
change.endingshavesincereplicatedinrandomized
controlled settings [].
Several scholars have proposed actions that may be taken
at the policy level to prevent and reduce harm associated
with a weight-focused sociocultural climate [,,].
However, a serious, inbuilt resistance to change appears to
be present within health systems. For instance, OReilly and
Sixsmith have argued that an overreliance on the dominant
position of powerful institutions, such as the World Health
Organization, has resulted in a dead-lock situation where
public health authorities uncritically accept and maintain the
weight-normative approach without scrutinizing its validity,
eectiveness, or ethical implications []. us, the weight-
normative approach becomes a self-perpetuated dogma. e
indications of harm associated with this paradigm, however,
demand that a closer look be taken and actions to reduce
the focus on weight within public health be implemented.
Certainly, during this implementation phase, data would be
needed to evaluate the outcomes of moving away from a
weight-normative toward a weight-inclusive approach.
OReilly and Sixsmith analyzed policy options that could
be used to shi the weight-normative approach to a more
weight-inclusive approach in public health []. ey con-
ducted interviews with key stakeholders who were asked
to rank proposed policy changes in terms of estimated
eectiveness in challenging the weight-normative approach,
likelihood of promoting equity and reducing weight bias,
political and public acceptability, and the practicalities of
implementation. e policy change that received the most
favorable rating was adopting language that did not mention
weight in public health messages. is was seen as a very low
cost action with a high level of public acceptability and politi-
cal feasibility. e shi from a weight-normative to a weight-
inclusive approach also emerged as a public preference in a
recent Canadian report where members of the community
 Journal of Obesity
were engaged in a discussion, in person and online, about
feasible action to promote healthy weight in children. e
most popular idea expressed online was to turn away from
aweight-normativeapproachinhealthpromotingeortsas
many participants expressed concern with the language on
weight and instead preferred a focus on healthy living [].
As this is a policy change that can be implemented with
relative ease, OReilly and Sixsmith highlighted it as a viable
and recommended action for governments to reduce harm
caused by weight stigma and weight preoccupation [].
OtherpromisingpolicyoptionsinOReillyandSixsmiths
analysis were implementing antiweight bias training for
health professionals and establishing research guidelines that
ensure the inclusion of measures of possible third-factor
contributions to obesity research, such as socioeconomic
status,physicalactivity,anddietaryfactors[]. Several
interventions to reduce weight bias among preservice and
practicing health professionals have already been reported in
the scientic literature with promising results [,,].
Inonestudy,overthreehundredpublichealthpromoters
were oered a single-day workshop on weight bias and related
issues which led to signicant decreases in antifat prejudice,
decreased internalization of media stereotypes on weight and
shape, and increased self-ecacy for addressing weight bias
aer intervention [].
4. Summary of the Competing Approaches
eresearchdemonstratesthatafocusonweightisassociated
with adverse physical health and psychological well-being
for patients and community members. Dieting is inextricably
linked to signicant physiological barriers to overall physical
healththatlikelycouldhavebeenprevented.estrainof
unsuccessful weight loss attempts on physical health is not
consistent with a benecent and nonmalecent approach to
clinical practice and public health. Moreover, the weight-
normative approach blames the individual rather than the
process when weight loss attempts fail, which is then tied
to body blame, body shame, internalized weight stigma,
and decreased psychological well-being. Under the weight-
normative approach, weight stigma likely lters into health
care professionals’ relationships with their patients, even if it
is unintentional.
e weight-inclusive approach supports the health of
people across the weight continuum and challenges weight
stigma. Data from randomized controlled trials have upheld
the ecacy of programs with a weight-inclusive empha-
sis, such as HAES. Specically, participants following the
HAES model achieved statistically and clinically signicant
improvements in physiological measures (e.g., blood pres-
sure), behavioral practices (e.g., increased physical activity,
decreased binge eating), and psychological measures (e.g.,
increased self-esteem, decreased depressive symptoms) and
did not demonstrate any adverse outcomes, despite the fact
that weight remained relatively unchanged. Other research
has supported the weight-inclusive approach, such that living
in a body-accepting environment (i.e., one without weight
stigma) is associated with higher body appreciation and
lower habitual appearance monitoring, independent of BMI.
e weight-inclusive approach, then, upholds the ethical
principles of benecience and nonmalecience and can be
used as a springboard for generating additional clinical and
public health interventions. Points of intervention, based
on targeting the variables that are connected to reduced
physical health and well-being (see Figure ), as well as the
mechanisms of action between the variables, are oered for
health professionals who work with patients or within public
health settings.
Returning to the vignette in the Introduction, we now
frame the health care encounter between the doctor and
patient through the lens of weight-inclusion and well-being
insteadofthepursuitofweightloss,takingintoaccounthow
little time doctors get to spend with patients during a typical
oce visit.
Jasmine is waiting in the exam room and her chart shows
that her weight today is up ve pounds from her last visit
two years ago, putting her BMI at . Her blood pressure was
borderline high in contrast to the normal readings in previous
visits. Although Jasmines labs were normal in past visits, they
are out of date. When Dr. Johnson greets her today, Jasmine
seems anxious and tells Dr. Johnson, “I almost did not come
in today knowing my weight is up from the last time I was here
and you suggested a diet. I feel like such a failure. However,
I need help for my migraines, so here I am.” Dr. Johnson and
Jasminelookateachother,thereisabeatofsilence,andthey
both sigh.
Dr.Johnsonsays,“Youknow,Jasmine,Ihavebeen
reading the research on weight loss interventions and weight-
cycling and I’m realizing that if the same thing happens to
almost everyone, it probably is not the fault of the person,
it is probably more about the process itself. So, instead of
focusing on weight loss, I’m encouraging my patients to think
about what makes them feel better in their everyday lives;
emotionally and physically. For example, do you feel better
when you eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water,
take a walk with a friend, meditate to relieve stress, and get
enough sleep? ere’s good evidence that those behaviors are
going to make you healthier and feel better even if your weight
does not change.
Jasmine is a bit surprised by Dr. Johnsons shi and says,
“Well, typically, when my weight loss slows down or stops
completely, I stop doing any of those things you mentioned
thatwouldhelpmefeelbetterandbehealthier.”Dr.Johnson
says, “I understand, but we’re going to turn the focus from
your weight to your health. Because those behaviors are
linked to health, why not do them anyway?”
Jasmine smiles at Dr. Johnson and says, “It sure would be
easier to come back and see you the next time I’m supposed
toifIdidnothavetoloseweightrst.
Dr. Johnson replies, “I do not want anything to stand in
the way of you getting your medical care, including worrying
that I might scold you. Now that we have a better plan, I am
goingtohavethenurseretakeyourbloodpressure.”Jasmine
and Dr. Johnson then discuss treatment options for Jasmines
migraines.
Right before Dr. Johnson leaves the room, Jasmine shares
one more quick concern, “I like the shi from weight to
Journal of Obesity 
health, but there is this Weight Focusers group at work. If I
donotgo,Illgetchargedahigherpremiumformyhealth
insurance.
Dr.Johnsonsays,“LetmeknowifIcanhelpwiththat.
eAordableCareActissupposedtoallowyoutofollow
your doctor’s recommendation, and I have no evidence that
Weight Focusers is going to make you healthier and lots of
evidence that says that weight cycling is linked to poorer
health.”
Jasmine leaves the doctor’s oce feeling hopeful and
understood.
As Dr. Johnson nishes the chart note, she realizes that
her own body is relaxed, her jaw unclenched. She feels like
she has made a better connection with Jasmine and developed
a sustainable treatment plan she can follow. Dr. Johnson is
curious and maybe even a little eager to see what happens
next. However, she does wonder what will happen if the
reviewers do not see weight loss in this patient, or a goal of
weight loss in the treatment plan.
5. Directions for Future Research
More research on the weight-inclusive versus weight-
normative approach is sorely needed as many important
questions remain unanswered. Research into the variety of
expressions of weight stigma can reveal nuanced associations
that advance scholars’ understanding of its inuence and
expression. For example, weight stigma could be opera-
tionalized as weight-related teasing, bullying, discrimination,
commentary, and objectication, and the source could also
be operationalized (e.g., partners, health care system, family,
friends, etc.). Similarly, decreased physical health and psy-
chological well-being can be dened in many dierent ways
and these operationalizations may reveal dierent relation-
ships with weight and body-based variables.
Another alternative conceptualization would be to
explore what happens in the absence of weight stigma, which
would directly examine weight-inclusive approach. ose
who do not experience weight stigma (whether because of
their weight or their environment/community/culture) may
demonstrate body appreciation and superior health and well-
being. Although some research into positive body-accepting
environments has begun [,], these studies are in their
infancy and would benet from additional research. In
addition, it would be useful to know whether individuals
who transition out of weight-stigmatizing environments
(e.g., away from stigmatizing partners or family members)
receive health and well-being related benets (and the extent
of these benets) or whether memories of being stigmatized
continue to inuence their health and well-being at a similar
level. In the latter instance, perhaps mental health providers
could work individually with patients to buer internalized
weight stigma and promote individual empowerment. In
particular, interventions that emphasize self-compassion
[] may be useful for these therapeutic endeavors, as
empirical evidence suggests that self-compassion is an
adaptive mindset to cultivate in the context of improving
body image and eating behavior []. Indeed, a -week
online self-compassion intervention reduced body shame
and improved body appreciation in community women;
these women maintained these outcomes at a -month
follow-up relative to a wait-list control group []. Among
women high in dietary restraint, those who were induced
to think self-compassionately aer eating a doughnut as
part of the experimental task (i.e., they were told that all
people eat unhealthy foods at times and asked to not to be
hard on themselves because “this little amount of food does
not matter anyway”) were able to reduce their distress and
disinhibited eating relative to a control group who did not
receive the self-compassion induction [].
ose working in patient settings and public health
should investigate the impact of moving from a weight-
normative approach to a weight-inclusive approach on their
patients and communities. Researchers could explore the
eects on patients’ compliance and willingness to address
health issues proactively when weight loss is removed from
theequation.Qualitativedesignscouldbeusedtogarner
rich data on the challenges and benets of this change to
health care, treatment adherence (e.g., more likely go to
follow-up appointments for medical concerns), and overall
health improvement. In addition, more research is needed
to examine which particular components of the weight-
inclusive approach, individually or in conjunction with
other components, have the strongest connection to health
improvement and promotion.
6. Conclusion
e weight-normative approach is not improving health for
the majority of individuals across the entire weight contin-
uum. Weight is overemphasized for higher-weight individ-
uals (i.e., assumptions are made that they are unhealthy)
and underemphasized for lower- or “average-” weight indi-
viduals (i.e., assumptions are made that they are healthy).
Furthermore, we know that weight loss through dieting is not
sustainable over time for the vast majority of higher-weight
individuals and is linked to harmful consequences. erefore,
we argue that it is unethical to continue to prescribe weight
loss to patients and communities as a pathway to health,
knowing the associated outcomes—weight regain (if weight
is even lost) and weight cycling—are connected to further
stigmatization, poor health, and well-being. e data suggest
that a dierent approach is needed to foster physical health
and well-being within our patients and communities.
Advocates of a weight-inclusive approach assert that
we are acting on behalf of our patients’ and communities
interests when we centralize health for people at all points
along the weight continuum and work to eradicate weight
stigma in all settings, including health care and public health.
is paper has reviewed the data in support of a weight-
inclusive approach to foster physical and psychological well-
being. We encourage both scholars and practitioners to
study and document what happens when health professionals
and their target populations shi their focus to developing
sustainable healthy behaviors for every body.
 Journal of Obesity
Conflict of Interests
e authors declare that there is no conict of interests
regarding the publication of this paper.
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