Weight Shaming Can Cause Physical As Well As Mental Harm

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Rebecca L. Pearl PhD
Department of Psychiatry, Center for Weight and Eating Disorders
Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? 

Response: Weight bias is a pervasive form of prejudice that leads to weight-based discrimination, bullying, and the overall stigmatization of obesity. Some individuals with obesity may internalize weight bias by applying negative weight stereotypes to themselves and “self-stigmatizing.” Exposure to weight bias and stigma increases risk for poor obesity-related health (in part by increasing physiological stress), but little is known about the relationship between weight bias internalization and risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

MedicalResearch.com:  What are the main findings?

Response: In this study, 159 adults with obesity who were enrolled in a weight-loss trial completed baseline questionnaires measuring weight bias internalization and depression. They also underwent medical examinations that determined whether or not they had a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.

Results showed that, above and beyond the effects of body mass index (BMI) and depression, higher levels of weight bias internalization were associated with greater odds of having metabolic syndrome. These effects were no longer significant when accounting for participant demographic characteristics. However, when participants were divided into categories of “high” versus “low” weight bias internalization, participants with high internalization had three times greater odds of having metabolic syndrome, and six times greater odds of having high triglycerides than participants with low internalization, even after accounting for demographics, BMI, and depression.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Disparagement of others due to their weight and messages that perpetuate blame and shame, if internalized, may cause harm to the physical and mental health of individuals with obesity.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: These findings need to be replicated in a larger sample. Future research is also needed to explore the possible biological responses (such as stress) and behaviors (such as avoiding physical activity) that may explain why individuals with obesity who internalize weight bias might be at greater risk for cardiometabolic disease. Additionally, more work is needed to develop strategies for preventing and reducing weight bias internalization.

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Pearl, R. L., Wadden, T. A., Hopkins, C. M., Shaw, J. A., Hayes, M. R., Bakizada, Z. M., Alfaris, N., Chao, A. M., Pinkasavage, E., Berkowitz, R. I. and Alamuddin, N. (2017), Association between weight bias internalization and metabolic syndrome among treatment-seeking individuals with obesity. Obesity, 25: 317–322. doi: 10.1002/oby.21716

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on January 27, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD