Person standing out in crowd

Let's talk about shame and blame in obesity

Our expert panel of Professor Stephen Simpson, Emily Maguire, Louise Stone and Catherine Pelle sets the record straight on the causes of obesity, and explains why the finger of blame should not be pointed at the individual.

The misconception that obesity develops within an individual purely as a result of gluttony or sloth remains prevalent within the Australian community and underlies much of the discussion around strategies to address the problem. The prevailing narrative is that obesity is a result of personal failings, and therefore the solutions must come from the individual and should not impinge upon the rest of the community.

How is it then that two out of three adults and one quarter of children in Australia are already overweight or obese?

The truth is that obesity in any individual results from a complex interplay of biological predisposition with the social, political and economic environment that drives behaviours. As such, it is a societal problem requiring whole-of-community solutions. This does not diminish each person’s requirement to commit to appropriate behaviours to maintain a healthy weight for themselves and their children, but society also needs to commit to providing an environment that supports rather than inhibits their efforts to achieve these outcomes. Failure to accept our communal responsibility for the drivers and solutions to obesity results in the discrimination and stigmatisation of individuals who are already affected by the consequences of it.

This event will explore the role of weight stigma and ‘obesophopbia’ as a barrier to collective action on obesity. It will explore how a change in the narrative around this issue will lead to real and measurable progress in the fight against the obesity epidemic.

This event was held on Thursday 29 November, 2018 at the University of Sydney.


  • Professor Stephen Simpson is Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, foundation member of the Obesity Collective and Chair of its Curators group, and Professor in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney. After graduating as a biologist from the University of Queensland, Stephen undertook his PhD at the University of London, then spent 22 years at Oxford before returning to Australia in 2005 as an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, then ARC Laureate Fellow. In 2007 Stephen was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, in 2008 he won the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, in 2009 he was NSW Scientist of the Year, in 2013 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and in 2015 was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. Stephen has also been prominent in the media, including presenting a four-part documentary series for ABC TV, Great Southern Land.
  • Emily Maguire is the author of five novels and two non-fiction books. Her latest novel, An Isolated Incident, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize, the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Emily’s articles and essays on sex, feminism, culture and literature have been published widely, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian newspaper, the Observer and the Age. Emily also works as a teacher and a mentor to emerging writers. As the 2018-19 Charles Perkins Centre Writer-in-Residence, Emily will be researching a novel about hoarding, illness, class and family.
  • Louise Stone is a registered midwife and Clinical Nurse Specialist who has worked at Nepean Hospital in Sydney for the last nine years as a midwife within Women's and Children's Health and the Nepean Family Metabolic Health Service. Louise graduated from the University of Western Sydney in 2009 as a registered nurse, then went on to complete her degree in midwifery in 2010. Louise has completed further qualifications, becoming a childbirth educator in 2013 and completing a Certificate IV in grief and bereavement in 2017-18. Louise was successful in obtaining a grant through nurse reserve funding in 2015 and, with this, established the Opal Clinic, an antenatal clinic that specialises in the management of obese women in pregnancy. This evolving service has been running for three years and was formally moved into the Nepean Family Metabolic Health Service in 2016.
  • Catherine Pelle is the director of an early learning centre in Penrith and baton twirling extraordinaire currently serving as the vice president of special projects for Twirling Australia. Catherine is also a graphic designer and is a passionate advocate for early childhood education. She enjoys socialising and creating connections with a strong love for learning and travelling the world. She loves to do anything creative and doesn’t give less than 100 percent to her life passions – her family, society and her work in early childhood education. Catherine will courageously provide an insight into the lived experience of obesity and how societal pressures; stigma and judgment have impacted her life.

Sign up for our newsletter

Each month we'll send you details about upcoming events, and a selection of podcasts.

You might also like