Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Canadian Human Rights Commission Has an Obesity FAQ?!

I find the Canadian Human Rights Commission's section on obesity to be rather surprising.

It's surprising in that their FAQ includes this statement,
"There are very few complaints filed about obesity. The number has been constant for many years and remains at 5 to 10 cases a year."
For context, that's 5-10 cases per year in a country of nearly 35 million people.

That's surprising in two ways.  Firstly it's surprising that a condition that the Canadian Human Rights Commission only sees 5-10 times per year would warrant being the only condition singled out for FAQ treatment on the Commission's website.  Secondly it's surprising because given the staggering amount of bias and discrimination faced by those with obesity, if those numbers are accurate, I can't get over how few people in Canada are standing up for their rights.

I guess society's just beat them down too far, too often.

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  1. I actually work at a human rights organization, and there's a lot of investigation going on right now into the intersection between human rights and obesity, especially in the area of corporate responsibility. Nothing's concrete yet, but there's an awful lot of interest in the topic. I think it's good the Canadian Commission is at least making this issue a bit more visible.

  2. Anonymous8:41 am

    Perhaps it is because pursuing the issue continues the humiliation, perhaps because many of us don't consider how we are treated as the human rights violation that it is. It is only after reading this post that I considered the fact that I have the right to unbiased medical care and yet that is not what I received recently from a sports medecine doctor. My experience with him spurred me to write this letter (which I have not sent). Fortunatley for me it was my first such experience, I know that is not true for everyone.

    "I saw you twice this week with an injury to my left knee. I will be having my file transferred to someone else. Someone who will see me as a person not as a pile of fat with sore knees.

    The first time I saw you, I told you that I had done too much on Sunday against the recommendation of my physiotherapist. I was at the end of a 200m run and I heard something snap and then I could not put weight on my leg, the pain was horrible. You essentially asked me if I had been cleared for exercise by my doctor. I sort of chuckled and explained that since I walked a marathon last year I was doing rehab and strengthening work with a trainer; working in a pool, on a bicycle, as well as walking and strength training. You seemed to not really listen and proceeded to tell me that getting physically active would help me to lose weight and would put less pressure on my knees.

    The second time I saw you, we looked at my x-rays. You saw that my right knee shows signs of arthritis setting in not the left. So you requisitioned an MRI to see if there might be a meniscus tear or something. Then told me again that I should set myself up with a fitness program – perhaps not now because of my knee – and shed some weight. Then you looked at the intern that was with you and proceeded to tell her/us about a lady you had seen who had been set up for surgery but was embarrassed about her weight and proceeded to lose “the weight” and then cancelled the surgery because she felt so much better. I guess that was to inspire me to suddenly shed some weight.

    In those two visits, did you ask me what my current fitness regime is? Nope! clearly I don’t have one, I am fat. Allow me to enlighten you. I work out 4-6 times per week. I belong to a Triathlon Club and participate in triathlons, cycling and running/walking events. The injury I sustained originated on the day that I did my 5th fundraising ride for Multiple Sclerosis (an 80+ km bike ride). I made matters worse by participating in a pentathlon with the Triathlon club. I swim once or twice a week, one of which is a club training swim. I participate in a weekly triathlon training program every year which builds up to a 90 minute ride on a stationary bike and includes strength training and eventually a 20 minute run on the back end. I do Strength training with a personal trainer 2-3 days a week for 1-2 hours. I use various aerobic machines at the gym and I walk/run outdoors. As you can see I do not have a sedentary lifestyle, yet you did not even ask, I am fat, I must go to work come home sit on the couch, go to bed and repeat.

    The reason I am injured is complicated. I have a problem with overtraining. I don’t know how to hold back. This is further complicated by the difficulty I have in losing weight. I have lost 30lbs over the last 4 years or so – but that is a fluctuating loss. You would have known that too had you asked. Why when I am so active do I have trouble losing weight? Because losing weight is complicated, it is not just a matter of getting active. Because I am a binge eater. Because being the Fat-Girl has always made me feel like I am lesser. Because I eat my emotions on a regular basis. Because I have complex body image issues that are compounded by people like you. Being the Fat Girl I have lived with judgement and ridicule all my life. I should not be made to feel lesser in your office.

    (PART 2 in next post)

  3. Anonymous8:42 am

    (Part 2)

    As I stood there today being humiliated by your patronizing speal about how shedding weight would be good for me and developing a fitness routine would be beneficial, I should have told you at least some of this. But I could not have done it without crying and the experience was humiliating enough without also shedding tears. So I nodded and smiled and listened and left. As I drove home I cried alone, as I always do. And then I started eating. But I stopped myself before I got into a full blown binge because this is not the event that will set me off my pace. Because yeah, I have been getting better at all of this; which you might know if you had asked.

    Perhaps the worst part of this whole thing is that today you had an intern with you. This means that you are teaching a whole new generation to look at the fat and not the person. You need to stop that, it is the opposite of helpful."

    1. Anonymous10:26 am

      All health professionals should read your letter. Thank you for sharing your story - it struck a chord with me because you are right, people make assumptions based on your size.
      On the flip side of your story, my sister struggled with bulimia for years and instead of being offered help, she was praised for being so 'healthy' and 'thin'. Years later, she is still struggling and I know a big part of it is that health professionals (and everyone else) assume that she is healthy because she looks the part.

      Good for you for standing up for yourself!

    2. Anonymous10:29 am

      Thanks for sharing your letter!

      I think we all need reminders from time to time to ensure we look beyond the "shell" of a person.

      To ask questions about eating habits, reasons for eating and activity levels. To NOT make assumptions about the person in front of you based on appearance.

      Thanks again!

    3. Rhodia10:09 am

      Great letter!

      I really hope you go ahead and send it to the doctor. Maybe you will contribute to a changed attitude.

  4. Hilary9:00 am

    I think part of the problem may be that many people don't realise that they CAN complain. They know that they can complain about discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, etc, but not weight. They think
    it's a societal issue, not a human rights issue.
    I also think that, particularly, in the workplace, the bias is so subtle, and manifests itself in ways not seemingly directly related to weight, that if a complaint were made, it would be very difficult to prove discrimination on the basis of weight.
    Been there.

  5. Anonymous10:17 am

    I agree with Hilary 100%! I'm currently going through weight discrimination at work and I've been told by a lawyer to file a complaint but how do I prove it? The burden of proof is on me not my employer. When I was first hired I was the golden child. Now after a change of management - a former co-worker is now my boss, I'm "incompetent". This boss of mine when she was my co-worker would make derogatory comments about my weight all the time. I'm currently on sick leave & seeing a psychiatrist because of escalated panic attacks at work brought on by my daily meetings with her. How do I even begin to prove it?? I'd almost rather be medicated and deal with her than have to go through a tribunal/court.

    1. Anonymous11:14 am

      It's bullying in the workplace rather than the school yard. I am tempted to say carry a tape recorder, never meet without a witness and all these seemingly logical ways of gathering evidence, yet in real life are they practical?

      My knee jerk reaction was to tell you to be medicated and deal with the courts - but that does not help you prove it and if you cannot prove it then the process will not work. Back to the tape recorder ... and around we go.

      In this economy it is not easy and it is not fair that you would have to do it - but have you tried finding a new job?

    2. Anonymous11:45 am

      I've sent out more resumes than I can count but no luck. Truth is I really love my job and the company I work for - I really don't want to leave. I've considered taping our conversations and gathering proof of my competence and her discrimination. She rarely mentions my weight to me. The discrimination is always veiled as "incompetence".

  6. It is amazing how obesity is growing more and more in every country, certainly is for many reasons, but I have more that I fear is feeding. Because I think every year people go down a level in terms of food, every time we eat things unhealthy. In homes and not cook very often, and fast food is doing its job. We are getting fatter and with various diseases caused by poor diet, need to do something fast.
    Joe | Recetas Faciles

  7. Alison10:10 am

    Keep in mind also that complaints filed at the Canadian Human Rights Commission would deal only with matters falling into federal jurisdiction. Most employment, housing and other social relationships are governed by provincial laws. Complaints related to those relationships would be considered by the provincial human rights bodies. You'd have to know the number of applications filed at the provincial level to really have a sense of how many applications are files in a given year.