Despite Weight Loss, Obesity Stigma Remains

Weight bias may linger even after losing weight, found a new study.  Researchers conducted an experiment investigating stigma directed at formerly obese women who lost weight and became thin or lost some weight but remained obese, in comparison with weight-stable obese and weight-stable thin women. In addition, the researchers studied stigma directed at obese women after participants read descriptions of women who lost weight vs. remained weight stable. For the study, 273 participants were given vignettes at random, with varying stories of weight stability and current weight–that is, currently obese or currently thin. The participants were then asked about some of the women’s attributes, including their attractiveness.

The results were troubling to some obesity experts; the findings indicated that residual stigma remained against women who have previously been obese, even after losing substantial amounts of weight and regardless of their weight-loss method (bariatric surgery versus behavioral). “We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history. Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight,” said study author Janet Latner.  The perception that body weight is relatively easy for one to control may be a large contributor to this stigma, but research is showing more and more that  physiology and genetics, in addition to food environment, are the really big players in one’s weight status and weight loss.

Weight bias is not confined to western countries anymore, either. A 2011 study found that many cultures that once saw excess body weight as a sign of wealth or beauty have adopted the negative attitudes of Western society toward obesity. The study found that the highest fat stigma scores were not in the U.S. or the U.K. as expected, but rather in Mexico, Paraguay, and American Samoa. You can read more about the study here.

Comments are closed.