Queen Latifah: ‘Obesity Isn’t a Choice’

Updated: Aug. 30, 2023

Actress, singer, and winner of more awards than we can count, Queen Latifah shares her private and public struggles with body image and unveils a powerful new symbol to help obese people find good healthcare.

Two out of every five American adults have obesity, meaning a body mass index of 30 or higher, and an additional one out of three are overweight, with a BMI of 25 or higher. Together this is nearly 70% of the population—and yet talking openly about weight and its effects on health is taboo.

This is exactly why Queen Latifah—yes that Queen Latifah, winner of a Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and two NAACP image awards—decided to partner with the It’s Bigger Than Me, an initiative to change the way we talk about obesity.

“I’ve learned that we have a hard time talking about weight and health without making it personal or feel like a moral failing,” she tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that obesity is not a character flaw and it’s not a choice—it’s a disease. Biology, genetics, environment all affect weight. When people make obesity a moral issue or say it’s just willpower, it implies the person is bad or wrong and chips away at that person’s self-esteem.”

And this moralistic attitude is so deeply ingrained in our society that sometimes we even say those derogatory and hurtful things about our weight to ourselves, she adds.

How talking about weight directly impacts your health

“Hearing negative comments about weight lowers self-esteem. And I know for me, when I’m in a place of low self-esteem, I’m not making the best decisions for my health or in general,” she says. “This affects how people decide to care or not care for themselves.”

How people care for their mental and physical health is important to her. As a rapper, actress, singer, advocate, philanthropist and generally incredible human being, Latifah says she has seen all sides of humanity. And one thing everyone has in common is the need for good healthcare—and being obese can make it harder to get that.

“You deserve good healthcare! Unfortunately doctors may be some of the people who have said negative things to you about your weight,” she says. “We want to encourage people to see obesity as a disease, not a choice, and to see a doctor for help.”

Easier said than done? Weight stigma is depressingly prevalent in healthcare, preventing patients from seeking health care and preventing doctors from providing the care the patient really needs. This is true for health conditions in general and for those directly related to weight.

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A symbol of health

To solve this issue, It’s Bigger Than Me came up with a unique symbol that doctors can display on their business cards, in their offices and on their websites that they are partners in this conversation.

“This symbol is so important—it shows patients ‘you’re safe here’ and ‘we’re allies’,” she says, adding that this is for everyone, regardless of the number on the scale. “No one look is attached to obesity, it’s ‘bigger than me,’ pun intended!”

And while the initiative is sponsored by Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company, it’s about creating a holistic approach to treating obesity. “I chose to be a part of this because it’s not promoting a drug, it’s promoting compassion, caring, respect and communication,” she says.

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The one thing Queen Latifah does every morning for her health

Part of a holistic approach to health is looking at all aspects of wellness. One thing Queen Latifah loves? Breathing—but the right way. Breathing may sound basic but there are different ways to breathe and she’s learned how to breathe in a way that promotes a feeling of peace and healing in her body.

“Every morning, the first thing I do when I wake up, is do some deep breathing,” she says. “Taking slow deep breaths engages the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the adrenal system.”

She adds that as she breathes, she takes a moment to send love to every part of her body, from her feet to her heart to her tummy. “I tell each part of my body, ‘Hey you good? Today is gonna be a great day.”

“I used to wake up on adrenal overload every day and would be so stressed out all the time,” she says. “Not anymore! Now I start my day from a place of calm.”

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Talking about weight for the next generation

These discussions about obesity and weight—whether it’s with your mom, a coworker or your own tummy—are so incredibly important to have and we shouldn’t avoid them, she says. One reason? The skyrocketing rate of childhood obesity. In 1975, just 4% of children were obese, by 2020 one in five kids were obese and one in three were overweight.

“This is so important because it relates to who you are as a person, to your humanity,” she explains. “We can and should learn to be better in how we talk about weight. This is one gift we can give to the next generation, so they grow up with a healthier mindset. We educate the kids, we educate their parents, and that’s how change happens.”

Check out It’s Bigger Than Me for more info, including scripts and videos of how to talk about obesity, images of the symbol, and how to find a doctor trained in obesity care.

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