WHO drops ball on diabetes and weight stigma

Earlier this week, WHO posted a tweet on World Diabetes Day. It received a significant response, so much so, it deleted the tweet and then posted an apology which included a screenshot of the now-deleted Tweet (see image below).

The image is a screenshot of a tweet. WHO says: We have removed this post following comments we’ve received. We apologize for an image that was stigmatizing and for content that was inaccurate in explaining the types of diabetes. Attached to the Tweet is an image identifying the causes of diabetes Type I (unknown) and Type II (excess weight and lack of physical activity). Accompanying the commentary is a picture of a large man sitting in an easy chair and eating a large bag of snack food.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based specialist in obesity writes a blog and here he writes: Never mind genetics, social determinants of health (including poverty, education, caregiving requirements, etc), co-morbid medical conditions, and more, the actual World Health Organization on World Diabetes Day, is stating if you have type 2 diabetes, it’s your fault.

Weight stigma surrounds us everyday. The pressure to lose weight to meet a social ideal is constant. It used to be the ads would start late in the spring on getting beach body ready. Now we have, beach-body season followed by little black dress season in the holidays, then by New Year’s resolution season, winter beach vacation season, prom season and wedding season.

Really, when is there not a season where we are told to lose weight?

That said, the WHO, with their use of stigmatizing language and victim-blaming, lent an aura of credibility to long-held assumptions on the causes of diabetes, and also possible solutions (eat less, exercise more). The WHO ignored issues of social determinants — whether one can afford nutrient-dense food, whether one can afford to go to a gym, or even if you afford the time to workout and the issues of genetics such as family history, conditions which lead to insulin resistance/diabetes/obesity (hello polycystic ovarian disease).

Yes, we can all make choices that lead to improvements in our health, well being, and quality of life overall. However, we need to make choices and be able to afford those choices based on best evidence, and in this case, the WHO got it all wrong.