Applying the concept of diversity to defining an issue reminds us to pay attention to differences among and between populations, among and between groups of women and men. The concept of equity takes us a step further, to a consideration of whether or not differences are rooted in disadvantage or create disparities for some populations. In the case of overweight and obesity, the concept of equity should prompt us to ask why some people are at greater risk. It should also lead us to assess whether or not overweight and obesity takes a greater toll on some people than on others.
1. Consider the following charts and reflect on whether the patterns you see are a simple reflection of differences or if they might be a result of inequity?
CHART 1. Percentage overweight/obese (BMI ≥ 25) and obese (BMI ≥ 30), by sex and Aboriginal identity, household population aged 19 to 50, Ontario and western provinces, 2004
CHART 2. Percentage overweight/obese (BMI ≥ 25) or obese (BMI ≥ 30), by household income and Aboriginal identity, household population aged 19 to 50, Ontario and western provinces, 2004
Question: How might we explain these differences?
The first chart shows us that rates of overweight and obesity are much higher among Aboriginal people living off-reserve than among non-Aboriginal people. The chart also shows significant sex differences, with Aboriginal men being most at risk of unhealthy weight. We might conclude that different patterns of food consumption and exercise account for varying rates of overweight and obesity. This conclusion would be supported by evidence that shows Aboriginal people living in Canada are much more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be living in poverty – and therefore less able to afford high quality food and opportunities for physical activity.
But the second chart casts doubt on this conclusion because rates of overweight and obesity are consistently higher for Aboriginal people than for non-Aboriginal people, regardless of whether their incomes are high or low. And Aboriginal people living on a low income are 2.5 times more likely to be obese than non-Aboriginal people living on low income. Poverty may be part of the explanation but alone it is not the answer.
If we look at other factors influencing health, such as level of education, employment status, housing, location of residence, we find that Aboriginal people are consistently worse off than non-Aboriginal people. Patterns such as these are evidence of inequity rather than just difference and they should prompt us to consider whether discrimination and exclusion are at work.
2. Article and video
While obesity and being overweight may be linked to inequity, we also need to consider whether unhealthy weights are a source of inequity. Read the following article or watch the following video and ask yourself if obesity and being overweight cause stigma.
Question: Does obesity and being overweight cause stigma?
The research article demonstrates that weight can have an impact on wages and career development, particularly for women. Men’s wages tend not to be affected by their weight. The video details the experiences of youth who are overweight and obese. They describe being bullied, excluded and stigmatized because of their weight. Both their peers and adults in their lives treat them badly simply because they are overweight or obese. This is inequity.
Sources: chart 1, chart 2;  Naci Mokan and Erdal Tekin (2009). “Obesity, self esteem and wages”