ICPO Letter of Complaint to RTÉ July 2020

This week the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO) made an official complaint to their National Broadcaster in response to highly stigmatising comments made in a “comedy” sketch as part of a charity fundraising show which was viewed by 1.4 million people living in Ireland.

The EU discrimination laws include five categories of age, race, religion, gender and disability. Weight is not yet included. No chronic disease is listed and there is a movement for discrimination on the grounds of health to be added.

These categories that stand now were all added at some point in time because people stood up and advocated that they needed to be. It is time weight is added too as a matter of urgency.
If we don’t contest stigmatizing public actions then we will have no success in reducing weight stigma and bias.

The complaint started out with gaining valuable support from national healthcare professionals, but it began to gain attention from some international supporters too who were instrumental in giving advice to this newly forming patient led organisation in Ireland. Added with the long list of names from people who live with or the family of someone who lives with obesity, it is hoped that the National Broadcaster will re-think their future broadcasts with regards to stigmatising people who live overweight or obesity in Ireland.

The ICPO alongside the ASOI will continue to address weight stigma and putting “People First”

Complaint Here:



The Irish Coalition for People living with Obesity (ICPO) is being formed as a non-profit organisation. We are a group of individuals who have been working towards creating this organisation and await confirmation of registration (CRO) while we continue advocating for people who live with overweight or obesity. Our aim is to address weight bias and stigma when we see it, and respectfully point out the consequences of it.

This complaint relates to the segment on RTÉ does Comic Relief Part 2, which featured the character “Rats” from Paths to Freedom. This sketch contributes to the widespread stigma against people with obesity, which is a complex medical condition. Suggesting people who are “ancient and fat” should stay at home and that it is “a public service to suggest they stay at home until they lose a few pounds” although intended as comedy, are highly inappropriate and harmful suggestions which target a vulnerable group in society.

When people hold negative weight-related beliefs or attitudes towards people in larger bodies, this is known as weight bias. When expressed as social exclusion, stereotyping and discrimination, this is called weight stigma.  Both impact on mental and physical health and can lead people living with overweight or obesity to engage in behaviours that promote poor nutrition and a more sedentary lifestyle. It causes people to avoid appointments with health professionals and lead them to feel excluded from society. People who are stigmatised face social rejection and lower peer acceptance. The range of psychological consequences can be increased for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image and even suicidal ideation.

Weight bias and stigma does not increase motivation or entice people to lose weight. Weight is determined by many different factors including genetics, biology, the environment, economic factors, medications, culture, and psychology to name a few. Weight stigma has become a serious public health issue.

Our nation has been coping with the COVID-19 virus since early March and people have had to cope in different ways. Emotionally, financially, psychologically, physically it has turned lives upside down. Many did not leave their homes for long periods of time. Many people with obesity who have self-isolated have already encountered stigma in their daily life. Some are already trying to cope with low mood and depression. Self-isolation measures made it difficult for many to access their usual support networks. Furthermore, many weight management programmes are postponed at present so people living with obesity cannot access the support they need.

Principle 3 in the Broadcasting Authority Ireland Code of Programme Standards states Broadcasters must take due care to ensure that audiences are not exposed to harmful content   Principle 5 states “the manner in which persons and groups in society are represented shall be appropriate and justifiable and shall not prejudice respect for human dignity”. Furthermore “Programme material shall not stigmatise, support or condone discrimination, or incite hatred against persons or groups in society”

In fulfilment of Principle 5, broadcasters shall: Recognise that the use of terms, references and images could be considered offensive to persons and groups in society and associated colloquial terms of abuse aimed at any groups requires editorial justification for their inclusion in the programme.   In addition, we also note the BAI’s own commitment to apply and monitor its Code of Programming Standards under the ‘Connecting for Life strategy’, (CFL), Ireland’s National strategy to Reduce Suicide 2015-2020. The CFL is based on national and international evidence on suicide prevention strategies. It is designed to be a living document with actions adapted and updated to meet a changing society.

Some of our members have reported they have received replies to their personal complaints stating that no breach of regulation codes was made, as obesity is not in the list of categories of people who should not be discriminated against.

The BAI ‘forward’ to their Code of Programme Standards acknowledges that their list of requirements is ‘not exhaustive’. Therefore, because obesity is not specifically listed as a vulnerable group, it does not follow that it should be excluded altogether. Given the response from RTÉ which has used the exclusion of the word obesity as a shield, the time has clearly arrived for obesity to be added to the list.

Overweight and obesity combined currently impacts 60% of our adult population.

It is worth noting in April 2015, the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Kaltoft (Case C-354/13), on whether obesity discrimination can amount to disability discrimination, did recognise that in some cases differential treatment on the basis of obesity can amount to disability discrimination.  CJEU agrees that obesity may hinder the full and effective participation of some persons in professional life on a long-term basis and in those cases, obesity discrimination can fall within the EU concept of ‘disability discrimination’.

One of RTÉ’s responses states that while 1.4 million viewers tuned into the show, only a handful of people complained, “that overwhelmingly viewers saw it for what it was – comedy; they did not regard it as gratuitous or deeply offensive”. There was a time when RTÉ would not have received many complaints about gender- and race-based discrimination. Does RTÉ only consider racist and sexist ‘comedy’ unacceptable now because there would be too many complaints if included in a broadcast today? Is RTÉ only prepared to take a position against discrimination if enough people complain about it?

We would respectfully suggest that rather than dismiss our complaint, the national broadcaster of Ireland could use this as an opportunity to learn about weight stigma and consider what is the right thing to do, rather than wait until sufficient numbers of people tell you what you should do. Please read the attached International Joint Consensus Statement, published in February 2020, so that you will hopefully understand why the show does indeed cause “undue offence”.

Weight stigma has a direct harmful effect on this vulnerable group, one of the consequences being that they may not have the courage to write letters of complaints themselves in fear of being further stigmatised.  We at ICPO represent those who cannot use their own voice to complain.  We await your response on this matter. The following people and organisations support this complaint.


Association of Studies of Obesity Ireland (ASOI)

European Association of Studies of Obesity (EASO)

European Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ECPO)

Obesity Action Coalition, America

PCOS Vitality, NI

St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, Dublin

Weight Management Patient Support Group, Galway Bariatric Service

Weight Management Patient Support Group, St. Columcille’s Hospital, Dublin

 @obsmuk (a platform to fight obesity and advocate for people with obesity UK)

Abd Tahrani, Senior Lecturer in Obesity Medicine, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation trust
Amanda Villiers-Tuthill BSc Human Nutrition & Dietetics. MSc Research in Psych, WMS St Columcilles
Anita Murray, HSE
Ben Whelan, ICPO Board Member
Bernadette Keenan, ICPO Committee
Caroline Donovan, RD, ASOI
Cathy O’Sullivan, Psychologist in Clinical Training
Cecilia Prieto MSc Health Inequalities &PP, Population Health Sciences UoE
Claire Kearney MSC, RNP, RN, RM.CNM 2, Weight Management Service, St. Columchilles Hospital
Colin Dunlevy, Phd, MISCP. Senior Physiotherapist, Weight Management Service, St. Columcilles Hospital
Diane Charleton, ICPO Committee
Dr. Andrew E. Hogan Assist. Prof & Principal Investigator, Instit for Human Health Maynooth University
Dr. Cathy Breen, RD in Diabetes / Weight Management, St Columcilles, ASOI
Dr. Colin Davenport, Consultant Endocrinologist, Galway University Hospitals
Dr. Finian Fallon CPsychol MIACP, St. Vincents Healthcare Group
Dr. Grace O’Malley RCSI, Childrens Health Ireland at Temple street, ASOI, EASO Secretariat
Dr. Grainne O’Donoghue PhD, MSc, BSc. Lecturer, School of Public Health, PT & Sports Science UCD
Dr. Jean O’Connell, Consultant Endocrinologist, ASOI Chair
Dr. Karl Neff, Consultant Endocrinologist St Vincents Healthcare Group
Dr. Mary A T Flynn RD, ASOI
Dr. Tracey Harrington, Assistant Professor School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health
Dr. Yitka Graham, Associate Professor of Health Services Research, University of Sunderland.
Emer O’Malley, Senior Physiotherapist, WMS, St. Columcilles Hospital TCD & UCD Practice Tutor
Enda Mulvany Medtronic
Eoin O’Connell, ICPO Committee
Fiona Quigley, PhD Researcher Ulster University
Julianne Reinheimer CRPD, ID, CDPL LLM Graduated
Karen Gaynor, National Obesity Clinical Programme, ASOI
Linda Smyth, ICPO Board Member
Louise Tully BSc, MSc, Rnutr, ASOI
Marita Hennessy, Postdoctoral Researcher, College of Medicine and Health, University College Cork
Mary Frances White, ICPO Committee
Mary O’Kane, Honorary Consultant Dietitian, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. 
Maura Murphy, ASOI, ICPO Committee
Maureen Ann Busby Dip Nutrition Practitioner, BSc, MSc, MBPsS
Michelle “Shelly” Vicari, Obesity Action Coalition National Board, Chair
Niamh Arthurs BSc, MSc, RD, ASOI
Nicola Kavanagh, ICPO Committee
Oonagh Lyons PhD Researcher Ulster University, ASOI
Patty Nece-Patient Advocate OAC America
Paul Chesworth- Patient Advocate OEN UK
Prof. Carel le Roux, FRCP, PhD, Obesity Physician, St Vincent’s University Hospital
Prof. Donal O’Shea, HSE Obesity Clinical Lead
Prof. Francis Finucane MSc MD FRCPI Consultant Endocrinologist, Galway University Hospitals
Prof. Mike Gibeny BAgrSc, MAgSc, Phd UCD
Sanjeev Kumar MD
Sheree Bryant, EASO Secretariat
Siobhan Foy, HSE
Solveig Sigurdardóttir-ECPO President
Susie Birney, ASOI, ICPO Committee, ECPO Secretary
Tara Kelly, Specialist Dietician, Honorary Clinincal Fellow, NUI Galway
Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA ConscienHealth
Teena Gates, ECPO Board member, ICPO Board Member
Vicki Mooney, ECPO Executive Director, ICPO Board Member
Ximena Ramos Salas, PhD, Director of Research & Policy, Obesity Canada
Zaher Toumi, Bariatric and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, University Hospital of North Durham, UK


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Susie Birney

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