Qatar University (QU) Public health students conducted an activity on health at every size- promotion focused on increasing body positivity and reducing internalized weight-based oppression in female students at QU.
The results have just been published in the prestigious journal Body Image, the highest-ranking journal in the field of body image.
Senior students from the QU Department of Public Health, Sana Elashie, and Hanaa Ahmed, under the supervision of Dr. Lily O’Hara, Associate Professor of Public Health, were supported by a QU Student Research Grant to evaluate the activity using a mix of methods including an online questionnaire and interview. The evaluation demonstrated that body acceptance and appreciation increased significantly after the event and were sustained at the 10-week follow up.
Dr Lily explained that “Weight-based oppression, including negative attitudes about body weight, and harassment, stigma, and discrimination based on body weight, is a widespread phenomenon that leads to considerable distress and poor health and wellbeing outcomes. Conversely, body positivity is a multi-faceted concept that encompasses body acceptance, body appreciation, and body love, and adaptive approaches protective of health and wellbeing.”
The Health at Every Size (HAES) approach is one example of a weight-inclusive approach which moves the focus away from weight and towards health and wellbeing. The HAES approach supports processes that enhance the health of all people, irrespective of their body size or weight. It does not contend that people are healthy at any size; instead the approach contends that people at any size can be empowered to focus on improving their health by adopting behaviors that are not focused on body weight.
Over 100 students participated in the activity, which involved four stations. The first station involved participants stepping on a Yay!Scale which is a scale where the numbers are replaced with positive affirmations such as amazing, beautiful, glorious, wonderful, and awesome. Students could choose between English and Arabic versions, and many students chose both. Hanaa Ahmed explained: “We used the Yay!Scale to highlight the principle of weight inclusivity which is focused on rejecting the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights, and to provide an alternative outcome for a practice steeped in fear and anxiety for many women.”
At the second station, participants were given a sticker with the same affirmation/s, and asked to place it on their chest or arm to reinforce and extend the impact of the positive affirmation, and to display to other participants a wide variety of complements. At the third station, participants had their instant photo taken with the sticker/s clearly visible. At the fourth station, participants were given a postcard on which to stick their photo, and write three things they are grateful for about their body. They were asked to place the postcard somewhere they could see it each day.
Sana Elashie explained: “After the last station participants chose to spend additional time comparing and congratulating each other on their results, talking about their gratitude statements, and engaging in discussion with the student organisers about the principals of the HAES.”
The impact of the activity was profound for many participants, 35 of whom participated in the evaluation. At the 10 week follow up, one participant commented: “It made me reflect on what exactly I like about my body, and this reflection made me realize that I don’t appreciate my body enough and I needed to do something about it.” Another participant commented, “I now appreciate my body more than ever, and I thank god for giving me this body. I now love every single detail about my body and cherish it because I now consider all these imperfections to be beautiful parts of who I am, parts that I will refuse to change.”
The researchers concluded that brief Health at Every Size informed health promotion activities show excellent potential to improve health and wellbeing. This study adds to the body of knowledge that HAES-informed approaches are more effective in improving physiological, psychological and behavioral factors than weight loss treatments.