Stigma Often Adds to Burden of Obesity

THURSDAY March 3, 2011 -- Obese people are already at risk for a range of health issues, but their problems can be made worse if they feel they are being discriminated against because of their weight, researchers say.

The new study included 1,500 adults, aged 25 to 74, who were surveyed in 1995 and again in 2005 as part of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States. Using a measurement based on height and weight called the body mass index (BMI), Purdue University researchers compared the participants' BMIs to their health and perceptions of weight discrimination.

The results are published in the March issue of the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.

"As expected, those who were obese fared worse in overall health when they were followed up with 10 years later. But we found there was a difference among those who felt they were discriminated against and those who didn't," study leader Markus H. Schafer, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology, said in a journal news release.

Discrimination was reported by about 11 percent of participants who were moderately obese and 33 percent of those who were severely obese. These two groups had the sharpest decline over time in their functional abilities to perform daily activities, such as being able to climb stairs or carry items.

"Obesity is a physiological issue, but when people have negative interactions in their social world -- including a sense of being discriminated against -- it can make matters worse and contribute to a person's declining physical health," Schafer said.

The study findings suggest that many obese people "are internalizing the prejudice and stigma they feel, and it contributes to stress, which ultimately affects their health," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases outlines the health risks of being overweight.

Posted: March 2011


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