The iconic entertainer and advocate is encouraging people to stop shaming and change the way we think and talk about obesity. Novo Nordisk Inc
- Queen Latifah partnered with the “It’s Bigger Than Me” campaign to change the conversation surrounding obesity.
- Obesity affects both the mind and body of people living with the condition.
- People with obesity are at increased risk of many health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke, as well as clinical depression and anxiety.
Singing, songwriting, acting, and producing: There’s not much Queen Latifah can’t accomplish in the entertainment world.
Now, she’s using her talents to change the conversation surrounding obesity, a health concern that continues to affect the United States in high rates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 35 percent of adults have obesity in 16 states, and this has nearly doubled since 2018.
Additionally, all 50 states have more than 20 percent of adults who are living with obesity, reports the CDC.
“The world is open to talking about everything right now. Why not open the conversation up about obesity, which is one of the biggest things that is affecting all of us?” Latifah told Healthline.
She wants to talk about the concept of obesity as it pertains to weight management, stigma, and shame, “instead of just seeing blips of things on news clips, things on social. Let’s talk about it for real,” she said.
To get the conversation going, Latifah teamed up with “It’s Bigger Than Me,” a campaign that aims to spread understanding that obesity is a manageable health condition, not a character flaw, and that obesity is a societal issue that has an impact on the mind and body.
As part of the campaign, Latifah stars in a series of videos inspired by popular TV genres, including the medical drama, ’90s-inspired sitcom, and detective thriller.
Throughout each video, her character highlights the stigma, self-hate, and shame felt by those living with obesity.
“[Sometimes people with obesity] beat themselves up. They think it’s [lack of] willpower. They think it’s a character flaw. They think they’re just not trying hard enough,” Latifah said.
She believes these feelings are partly due to society’s attitude toward people with obesity.
“[They think] you’re lazy… but it’s not that. If you see it as a health condition, then you would look at it as any other health condition someone has. You don’t blame someone for cancer. You don’t blame someone for lung diseases or all kinds of blood ailments or other diseases that people have,” she said.
Stereotypes fuel stigma
Christina Brown, a weight loss coach, said a variety of reasons contribute to the stigma surrounding obesity, such as stereotypes portrayed in movies, TV shows, and books, which imply people with obesity are lazy and unhappy.
“We are constantly bombarded with images of beautiful, thin people doing fun and exciting things, and when we do see pictures of obese people, they are typically shown sitting, eating, and without a smile on their face,” Brown told Healthline.
Dr. Rekha B. Kumar, attending endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, added that there’s often stigma around conditions that include a behavioral or lifestyle component to a disease like obesity.
“Although there are genetics and biology that drive one’s risk of developing obesity, there are also lifestyle factors. When there is ignorance towards the science of obesity, the myth that laziness and lack of willpower drive the disease prevails,” she told Healthline.
Obesity is about more than the way you look
While Latifah said body positivity and feeling good about your appearance no matter what shape and size you are is worth embracing, she said addressing obesity goes deeper.
“Confidence always speaks through in my opinion… Health however, is different… We got a whole thing going on inside our bodies that we need to feel just as positive about and care just as much about,” she said.
According to the CDC, people who have obesity are at increased risk of many health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke, as well as clinical depression and anxiety.
“Obesity contributes to organ dysfunction at all levels, ranging from the brain (sleep apnea) to the extremities (arthritis) to the reproductive organs, but also can lead to depression,” Kumar said.
Checking in with your doctor to get an overall understanding of your health (like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, fasting blood sugar, etc.) is a good place to start.
“[It’s] not just a weight thing or an image thing, because you can be healthy and be a big girl. I feel like I am, and I’m very healthy,” Latifah said.
“It’s about checking in with your health… to see what’s going on inside, so we know whether there is something we can be dealing with or something we can do about it that could positively affect our mental health or vice versa,” she said.
You can manage obesity
Obesity requires a combination of prevention and long-term treatment, said Kumar.
Understanding that there are genetic factors that affect obesity risk is a good place to start, she added.
“There are genetic mutations, which are rare, that cause childhood obesity, but more commonly, several genetic factors (not one single gene) contribute to one’s risk of developing obesity,” Kumar said.
With long-term treatment, she said obesity can be managed, but it may require a range of interventions, from behavioral changes and medication to bariatric surgery, depending upon the obesity’s severity.
“There are many exciting advances on the horizon in terms of medication treatment. Telehealth has made access to care for obesity easier, but we have a ways to go,” Kumar said.
When it comes to healthy weight loss, Brown said the best approach is to start off slow.
“Following a drastic diet in which one loses a ton of weight is not sustainable. People who diet drastically end up gaining the weight back, plus some, and then end up yo-yo dieting, which is extremely harmful to their health,” she said.
Brown suggests creating small, healthy habits related to food or exercise that are sustainable long term.
“The process may take a little longer, but there is no magic pill or quick fix when it comes to weight loss,” she said.
While people have the power to make changes to their weight and health, Latifah said, she hopes society as a whole comes together to tackle obesity.
“We hope we can show you that this is bigger than you, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us, but together we can change the conversation,” Latifah said.