“Racism toward Māori is compounded by fat-shaming”


Māori are over-represented in a number of negative statistics like poor health, life expectancy, tobacco use, unemployment, imprisonment and obesity. Is this a result of some form of racism?

How can these negative outcomes be addressed without it being seen as racism?

Should efforts to address alarming levels of obesity be referred to as ‘fat-shaming’? If so, is it a form of racism?

The latest obesity statistics from the NZ Health Survey 2017-18:

  • About 101,000 children aged 2–14 years (12.4%) were obese.
  • 1.26 million adults (32%) were obese, up from 27% in 2006/07.
  • Children living in the most socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods were 2.1 times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived neighbourhoods, after adjusting for age, sex and ethnic differences.

Obese: BMI of 30.0 or greater 15-17 years:

  • All – 32.2%
  • Māori – 47.5%
  • Pacific Island – 65%
  • Asian – 15.1%
  • European/Other – 30.7%

Obese: BMI of 30.0 or greater 2-14 years:

  • All – 12.4%
  • Māori – 16.9%
  • Pacific Island – 30%
  • Asian – 7.0%
  • European/Other – 9.8%

Māori are well above average in both age groups, but Pacific Islanders, who are not indigenous, are far more likely to be classified as obese. Is this another sign of racism? Asian are the least obese group so is racism only targeting some racial groups?

Or is the physiology of Pacific islanders and Māori more likely to end up inj obesity with modern diets?

RNZ:  Is ‘fat-shaming’ racist?

Research by Dr Isaac Warbrick from the Auckland University of Technology has found many weight loss-centred public healthcare initiatives frame Māori as unproductive.

Mr Warbrick is the lead author of the paper The shame of fat-shaming in public health: moving past racism to embrace indigenous solutions. It has been published in the international Public Health journal.

“In New Zealand, weight remains the primary focus for health interventions targeting Māori, with limited mention of psychological, spiritual or whānau wellbeing,” he said.

He said societal and institutional racism needed to be challenged in the areas of nutrition, physical activity and weight loss.

“Rather than improving health outcomes for Māori, weight and weight loss-centred approaches may actually cause harm,” Mr Warbrick said.

Fat was also a racism issue, he noted.

“Just as sexism-related stigma is compounded by weight anxiety, racism toward Māori is compounded by fat-shaming,” Mr Warbrick said.

“Long before we reached the current alarming level of obesity, Māori were stigmatised, like many other colonised peoples, because of the colour of their skin, their beliefs and culture.

“Stigma is nothing new to Māori, so when we are told that we are fat and less productive because of our fatness, we are not surprised because we have been told the same thing, albeit for different reasons, for generations.”

The paper examines perceptions of weight and racism towards Māori, New Zealand’s policy and practice regarding weight, and proposed indigenous solutions.

“We need indigenous-led solutions informed by indigenous knowledge.”

Perhaps ‘indigenous solutions‘ would also help Pacific Island obesity.

So called fat-shaming and claims of racism portray Māori as victims of non-indigenous lifestyles and of obesity. I don’t know whether convincing people they are victims is a good way to help them lead better lifestyles and reduce obesity. It may hinder encouraging self-responsibility.

Labels such as racism and fat-shaming could be adding to ‘poor me’ syndrome – or probably more accurately, ‘poor them’ syndrome.

I’d rather see more focus on positive solutions, and less of an obsession with claiming victimhood.

To check your BMI: Healthy Weight BMI Calculator

UPDATE: this from Stuff combines Maori and Pacific Islanders under the fat shame label:  The stigma of a system that ‘fat shames’ Māori and Pasifika people

Western medicine says many Māori and most Pasifika people are obese. Some people are angry about the system that ‘fat-shames’ them in this way. Others are focused on finding solutions that actually work. Carmen Parahi reports.

“The health sector and the measures they’re using for Māori and PI is not working. They don’t take into consideration our culture. Everything they’re doing to combat obesity is not going to work.”

“Anyone that’s overweight there’s a stigma. They’re lazy, they make their own bad choices, it’s their fault they’re fat, their fault they’re sick,” says Warbrick.

“We’re so focused on weight, it’s not working. The stats show obesity keeps going up even though we focus on this issue.

“Why are we measuring it? If it does harm, drives all this anxiety why measure it at all? It’s not solving the problem.”

Warbrick links the stigma attached to obesity to racism.

“When we’re talking about racism we’re talking about someone looking different. Therefore you make all these judgements.”

“The reason we’re overweight and have these health issues is not because we’re Māori or Pasifika it’s because we’re in an environment we have to live in.”

He agrees individuals need to take responsibility for their own health. But Māori patients told researchers they’re being treated differently by health professionals and not respected.