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Obesity and Stigma

Winter 2007

Obesity discrimination is one of last forms of acceptable discrimination in today’s society. Quite often individuals with obesity find themselves the target of discrimination in a variety of settings such as employment, healthcare, education and much more.

Consequences of Weight Bias

Taken together, the consequences of being denied jobs, rejected by peers, or treated inappropriately by healthcare professionals because of one’s weight can have a serious and negative impact on quality of life. Individuals with obesity suffer terribly from this, both from direct discrimination and from more subtle forms of bias and stigma that are frequently encountered.

Weight bias can have psychological, social and physical health consequences on those affected by this disease. Psychological outcomes can include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image and much more. The social effects can be social rejection by peers, poor quality of interpersonal relationships and potential negative impact on academic outcomes. The physical health outcomes can include binge-eating and unhealthy weight-control practices.

Reducing the Weight Bias

Given how pervasive and acceptable weight stigma is in our society, transforming societal attitudes and enacting laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight are needed in order to eliminate the problem of stigma toward individuals affected by obesity. Although this requires enormous efforts, there are other important steps that can be taken by both patients and their healthcare providers to help improve the daily functioning and well-being of individuals with obesity.

Patients who are struggling with weight stigma can begin to approach this problem by becoming advocates for themselves. This includes identifying situations in which they have been stigmatized because of their weight and deciding how best to handle the situation to achieve positive emotional health to help prevent additional stigma from occurring.

If you see any examples of the negative stigma associated with obesity portrayed in your daily life, we encourage you to share them with the OAC by e-mailing info@obesityaction.org.

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