Bernice RA Blogs: Weight stigma does not reduce obesity

As one of the top public concerns in United States, obesity draws huge attention from social media, and unfortunately, most portraits of obese people are linked with negative characteristics, such as lazy, weak willed and self-indulgent. However, some public health campaigns claim that stigmatizing obesity may encourage people to lose weight and such belief contributes to the prevalence of weight stigma. On the other hand, there are experimental evidence that shows that weight stigma may lead to both psychological and physiological consequences. A recent study by Dr. Major supports the latter proposition.

Major’s study shows that women who perceived themselves as overweight, and were randomly assign to read a news article about the stigma faced by obese people feel less capable of controlling their eating, and consume more calories during a fixed waiting time, compared to women who perceived themselves as normal weight. Moreover, exposing one to weight stigma by reading news causes both women who self-perceived themselves as overweight and those who self-perceived themselves as normal weight to be concerned more about being a target of stigma.

Such result implies that weight stigma is not a possible solution to reduce obesity. Rather, it leads to weight-based identity threat among self-perceived overweight people, and consequently, the threat and concerns cause those folks to become more prone to unhealthy eating or weight control behavior. The only way to break such vicious circle is to reduce public weight stigma and alter the self-perceived body image.

Blog by Bernice Cheung