The Harm of Accepting Weight Stigma
Thirty years ago, Sandra Boynton put wisdom of the ages into an amusing book: Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down. Today, a new study published in Obesity brings life to the importance of that advice. Rebecca Pearl and colleagues present new evidence that the harm of fat shaming is worse when a person takes it to heart. They found that people who internalize the weight stigma they encounter may have up to three times the risk for metabolic syndrome compared to people who don’t. Pearl explains:
WBI [weight bias internalization] has been shown previously to be associated with binge eating, reduced physical activity motivation and engagement, and poorer self-reported physical health. However, this is the first report of which we are aware to demonstrate a possible association between WBI and metabolic syndrome.
In a companion commentary, Rebecca Puhl and Scott Kahan make sense of this finding:
It should not be surprising that WBI is so pivotal, as modern psychology demonstrates that the meaning we assign to external events, not the objective events themselves, determines our emotional reactions and health outcomes.
In other words, the harm becomes comes especially sharp when a person takes weight stigma – or any insult – to heart. In the case of weight bias, it seems to stack the odds. A person’s health becomes more likely to suffer from obesity. Perhaps this happens because of a stress response that becomes worse when weight bias goes inward.
The real question is how to reduce the harm. Puhl and Kahan correctly say that obesity care must go beyond weight management. Clinicians must take into account the mental and physical effects of living with obesity.
Weight bias presents a tough challenge to the health and wellness of people with obesity. If we cannot eliminate it altogether, then maybe we can reduce its impact. Coping strategies to prevent and reduce internalized weight bias might hold promise for doing just that. We need smart research to find the best strategies.
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January 26, 2017