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Pervasive Stigma and Misunderstanding of Obesity Help Fuel Worldwide Epidemic 
and Pose Barriers to Effective Prevention Strategies and Treatments


Obesity is one of the most challenging public health concerns of the 21st century.1 More than half of the population is now overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people have obesity.2 Globally, at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or having obesity.1 But stigma represents significant barriers for patients to get access to appropriate prevention and treatment. A coalition of leading professional, advocacy and industry organizations including Ethicon, a world leader in bariatric surgery, have come together today for World Obesity Day 2020. The #WorldObesityDay is a global public awareness and advocacy initiative created to enhance the understanding of obesity, improve healthcare policies, practices and access to obesity treatments, and reduce the stigma associated with the disease.

Obesity: A chronic disease with grave implications
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the prevalence of obesity in many European countries has tripled since the 1980s.3 A sample of the population of 20 European countries showed that 53.1% suffer from overweight or even obesity.4 By 2030, the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) predicts more than 50% of the European population will have obesity.5

Obesity is recognized by most major medical groups as a chronic disease6,7,8 caused by interactions between genetic, behavioral, socioeconomic and environmental factors.9,10 When people fail to recognize obesity as a chronic disease, the stigma surrounding it endures and patients are left facing more co-morbidities, lower quality of life and shorter lifespans, while countries facing greater demands on their health systems and sicker population. Obesity causes a range of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers – 44% of type 2 diabetes, 23% of ischemic heart disease and between 7% and 41% of certain cancers are attributable to overweight and obesity.11

Discrimination discourages obese people from life-saving bariatric surgery
Stigma, however, may be preventing people from getting bariatric surgery. Multiple clinical guidelines recommend involvement of a physician and treatment that goes beyond diet and exercise alone, particularly for severe obesity where bariatric surgery has been shown to be the most effective long-term treatment available, yet the least utilized.12 Beyond weight loss, bariatric surgery results in resolution or improvement of other diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.13

“Severe or morbid obesity needs long-term multi-disciplinary care, follow-up and self-care. We can conclude that - at this moment - metabolic and bariatric surgery (MBS) offers by far the most effective durable treatment for morbid obesity (BMI ≥40) and for severe obesity (BMI ≥35) associated with important co-morbidities, this in terms of successful weight reduction and improvement or even regression of associated co-morbid diseases. Therefore, it is critical that we collaborate across the globe to reduce stigma to turn back this deadly epidemic” comments Dr. Bruno Dillemans, Director of the Center of Obesity Surgery in the AZ Sint-Jan Hospital in Bruges (Belgium) and one of the worlds’ leading bariatric surgeons.

People who are overweight or who have obesity are in a majority today in the OECD1 region. The obesity epidemic continues to spread, and no country has seen a reversal of the trend since the epidemic began.14 However, stigmatization, discrimination and weight-based bullying is something that patients face every day – not only from the society, but from employers and health care professionals as well. In many countries misconceptions and stereotypes about obesity cause severe struggle. “Obesity is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. Putting an end to weight bias and stigma in obesity is important part of people living with obesity reclaiming their health. Size stigma can make it more difficult for people to seek help and treatment from their GP.” Comments Vicki Mooney, Executive Director of of the EASO ECPO - European Coalition for People Living with Obesity.

Ethicon as a pioneer of technological innovations in bariatric surgery 

Over the last 20 years Ethicon’s contributions span technological innovation, landmark research, training and education, and policy and advocacy initiatives. “We are constantly striving to break down treatment barriers and expand access to bariatric surgery worldwide. Our measure of success is the people we impact around the world. The patients who are now enjoying longer and healthier lives and the patients with obesity who will soon benefit from programs that expand access to lifesaving treatments like bariatric surgery,” comments Said Haddad, Ethicon EMEA Vice President.

Over 100 groups are involved in World Obesity Day 2020 including: Obesity Canada, Obesity Action Coalition, The Obesity Society, Obesity Medicine Association, European Association for the Study of Obesity, Asia Oceania Society for the Study of Obesity, and organizations in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and industry sponsor Ethicon. For more information, visit

About Ethicon
Ethicon, part of Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, has made significant contributions to surgery for more than 100 years from creating the first sutures, to revolutionizing surgery with minimally invasive procedures. Our continuing dedication to Shape the Future of Surgery is built on our commitment to help address the world's most pressing health care issues and improve and save more lives. Through Ethicon's surgical technologies and solutions including sutures, staplers, energy devices, trocars and hemostats and our commitment to treat serious medical conditions like obesity worldwide, we deliver innovation to make a life-changing impact. For more information, visit

About the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies
The Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies’ purpose is to reach more patients and restore more lives. Having advanced patient care for more than a century, these companies represent an unparalleled breadth of products, services, programs and research and development capabilities in surgical technology, orthopaedics, interventional and specialty solutions with an offering directed at delivering clinical and economic value to health care systems worldwide.

1. OECD - The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has 34 Member countries that span the globe, from North and South America to Europe and Asia-Pacific. They include many of the world’s most advanced countries but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey.

1. World Health Organization. Global strategy on diet, physical activity, and health: childhood overweight and obesity. Accessed February 21, 2020.
2. OECD Health Policy Studies, The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention 2019, Accessed February 21, 2020.
3. World Health Organization. The challenges of obesity in the WHO region and the strategies for response, 2007 Accessed February 21, 2020.
4. Marques A, et al. Prevalence of adult overweight and obesity in 20 European countries, 2014. The European Journal of Public Health. 2018; 1;28(2):295-300. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckx143
5. L. Webber, D. Divajeva, T. Marsh et al. The future burden of obesity-related diseases in the 53 WHO European-Region countries and the impact of effective interventions: a modelling study. BMJ Journals. 2014; 4(7):
6. American Medical Association. American Medical Association House of Delegates Resolution: 420 (A-13).
7. Jensen M. D., et al. A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. The American Heart Association Journal. 2014; 129:S102–S138:
8. Garvey T. W., et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology Comprehensive Clinical Practice Guidelines for Medical Care of Patients with Obesity. Endocrine Practice. 2016; Vol. 22, No. Supplement 3, pp. 1-203.
9. Hruby A, Hu F. B. The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. Pharmacoeconomics. 2015; 33(7): 673–689.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Causes and Consequences. Accessed February 21, 2020.
11. World Health Organization. Global Health Risks. Page 17 Accessed February 21, 2020.
12. American Heart Association-Jensen MD et al-2013 AHA-ACC-TOS Guideline for Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults
13. Weiner, R. A., et al. Indications and principles of metabolic surgery. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2010; 81(4) pp.379-394.
14. OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. OECD Obesity update 2014. Accessed February 21, 2020.

© Ethicon Endo-Surgery (Europe) GmbH 2020, 133616-200228 EMEA