By James Zervios, OAC VP of Marketing and Communications
I feel it’s safe to say that 2020 was a year of news headlines. It seemed every day a different issue was catapulted into the discourse of society via the media. One of the best things to come out of a media-prevalent year like 2020 was discussion. Without discussion, we cannot learn from each other. We cannot understand each other’s pain, struggles or point-of-view.
January 12th, 2021 is a special day for the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). It’s a day that OAC launches a landmark public awareness campaign, titled “Stop Weight Bias.” And guess what? I hope it gets a lot of media headlines and more important, gets discussion going about why we need to stop weight bias once and for all.
The launch of this campaign is years in the making. Throughout my almost 16-year career with the OAC, I’ve heard some horrific stories of weight bias. From people being sent to the zoo or the garbage dump to be weighed to people just flat out being denied a job because of their weight. Sadly, this continues year after year. It continues because we, as a society, allow it to continue without repercussion.
Weight bias has always been a passion of mine since I started with the OAC. It’s one of those things that just burns me to the core. I do not understand the necessity to insult someone because of their weight, as if the insulter was crafted out of pure perfection. Throughout my career, I’ve heard so many stories about why someone is dealing with weight issues. From abuse to genetic issues, obesity is not as “simple” as we all think it is. And…unfortunately, it’s compounded with weight bias in all areas of life, such as healthcare, employment, school, pop culture, family/friends and more.
I’ve always had the privilege of working on weight bias with some of the brightest people I’ve met in my life, such as Ted Kyle, Rebecca Puhl, Gwen Cready, Patty Nece, Michelle Vicari, Melinda Watman and others. I credit them with the seeding for my vision for this campaign. Their intelligence, stories and determination guided me down the path to push for this campaign. By and large, there have been very few, if any, successful campaigns that targeted weight bias. I pretty much was told “don’t do this” any time the concept was pitched, but I couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t accept that we stand by and do nothing to raise awareness of weight bias, especially because there are so many people dealing with it daily.
My vision for this campaign was something that would wake people up to the fact that bias exists and that it needs to stop. In a time where society is challenging so many things for the better, why can’t weight bias have its own time in the spotlight? My biggest issue with developing this campaign was trying to wrangle it all into something that would resonate with the public. There are so many ways you can take this issue, but we needed to build the foundation. We had to start at square one and explain to people why weight bias is harmful, not helpful. We also need to put a light on the instances of bias and how it impacts everyone.
People have said, “Aren’t you excited by the success of the campaign?” My answer is, “No, because it’s not successful…yet.” Stop Weight Bias is in its infancy right now. The launch of this campaign is a benchmark day for the OAC and all of the amazing people that worked on it. It’s day one. The success of this will depend on society. Coming off a year where the need for compassion for your fellow human has probably never been greater than in the past decade, we’re going to need more of that compassion and understanding to stop weight bias. We’re going to need everyone who reads this blog, receives the OAC’s emails, sees our ads on social media, views the PSAs on TV, hears the PSAs on the radio and so on to be part of the solution. Without that, we will not see success. The very simple reality is that without the compassion, understanding and strength of society, we will not stop weight bias. If there’s one thing though that I hope to achieve with this campaign, it’s that we get the discussion going about weight bias. I truly believe it’s imperative that we create that dialogue so that everyone understands why stopping this is so important.
About the OAC
The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) is a more than 75,000 member-strong 501 (c)(3) National non-profit organization dedicating to giving a voice to individuals affected by the disease of obesity and helping individuals along their health journeys through education, advocacy and support. The OAC’s core focuses are to raise awareness and improve access to the prevention and treatment of obesity; provide evidence-based education on obesity and its treatments; fight to eliminate weight bias and discrimination; elevate the conversation about weight and its impact on health; and to offer a community of support to the individual affected.