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NO FAT SHAME: Where We Get it Wrong and
How We Can do Better

Saturday May 20 | 4:15pm - 5:15pm

Presented by 
Dr. Ali Zentner

As a national expert in the field of obesity and someone who has a lived experience with this disease, I am passionate about changing the way we see this disease. The world demands a new generation of kindness and compassion more than ever before. I have spent the last two decades in medicine building a practice dedicated to enforcing evidence-based treatment options for people living with obesity while challenging the stigma that it is a self-induced condition. My life's work has been to build a bridge between science and empathy. Beyond my clinical practice, my goal is to shift the public perceptions around obesity. For too long obesity has been seen as a " lifestyle choice" and a condition of "weak will";
the result of a lack of discipline or self-control. We know better. Science has shown us that obesity is the result of a complicated physiological mismatch; the result of genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and a complicated biological dysfunction. Like any disease- the body does not do what it is supposed to do. But beyond any disease, the world still prejudges patients as "lazy" and "unmotivated". People living with obesity deserve the same respect and empathy we provide to anyone with a chronic disease. Why is it that when a woman has breast cancer she is thought of as a "fighter", but when she has obesity she is often thought of as a "failure". We need to change the landscape to reflect the knowledge that we have. The beauty of my profession is that we can use our knowledge to make things right. I know there have been many times when medicine gets it wrong. We have been wrong in how we've treated people with obesity. We've been cruel and shortsighted and judgmental.

Telling someone with obesity to "just eat less and move more" is like telling someone with depression to "cheer up". It is like telling someone with asthma to "take deep breaths". Not only is it ridiculous, it's cruel and ignorant. Sixty percent of patients have been fat-shamed by their doctors. It’s a tricky issue. The challenge in medicine is that when we don’t understand a disease- we blame the patient. In medicine, we have left the education around adiposity to the mainstream world. We don’t teach energy regulation in medicine. We don’t routinely teach obesity management and treatment in medicine. Any resident can tell you about a pheochromocytoma and they may never meet a patient with this. Rarely do
our trainees learn about a medical approach to obesity and weight and half of their patient population is facing this in some respect.

We fat shame because weight bias is prevalent and pervasive in medicine and society and there is not enough of a counter-narrative in our medical classrooms.

It’s time to stop the big fat blame game. I'm so proud that the last few years have seen a shift in the conversation around stigma. We are working hard to lift the bias around mental health and addiction.  We are focusing now more than ever on education around equality and LGBTQ issues. We are trying as a society to right the wrongs of generations before.

But we are lagging when it comes to obesity. Medicine at its best does not care how people “get sick”- we care how people get well. As women in medicine, we have celebrated our differences in this profession. We have championed the need to adjust the old system to accommodate our presence and our place. We have seen this with race, religion, and gender. We need to take this one step further when it comes to people of different sizes. Weight is complicated. Sometimes obesity is a disease, sometimes it is a risk factor and sometimes it is a social construct. The debate continues.

I'm a scientist first and foremost but I'm also a revolutionary. I bring a level of understanding to my field of practice that allows me to convey the facts of the disease and still advocate for the person in front of me. I treat people and not just illnesses. May I be so bold as to say- I'm not your typical doctor. I'm funny and self-aware but I still know how to capture an audience with a good deal of science and a great deal of heart. I look forward to raising awareness about weight bias in our profession and providing a thought-provoking talk about the intersection of science and the social contract.


Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to: ​​

  • To examine the prevalence and presence of weight bias in medicine.

  • To explore the origins of weight bias in medicine and the effect it has had on our patients and on our system.

  • To establish some "rules of engagement" to mitigate and combat weight bias in our practices and in our world. 

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