Social Pressure: Is Weight Bias OK?

Social pressure related to obesity is everywhere, and much of it is an expression of weight bias. But a recent publication in Eating and Weight Disorders provides a reminder that social pressure is a two-way street. Jessica Harper and Robert Carels found that social feedback has great potential to impact the expression of stereotypes against people with obesity.

In a controlled experiment with 158 undergraduate students, Harper and Carels manipulated the public or anonymous feedback or scientific information about stereotypes of people with obesity. They also completed measures of explicit and implicit weight bias.

It turns out that public social pressure had the biggest effect on the expression of stereotypes against people with obesity. When the subjects understood that their biased views of people with obesity were inconsistent with others in a public setting, they expressed less weight bias.

Health professionals of many different kinds too often feel like they have social permission to express bias against people with obesity. The most recent observation that comes to mind is a study of first-year medical students. They openly expressed more bias against people with obesity than against racial minorities, sexual preferences, or religions.

This research encourages us to believe that the growing rejection of fat shaming might help. People might get the message and treat people with more respect.

Click here to read the study in Eating and Weight Disorders and click here to read more about explicit weight bias in medical students.

Feel the Pressure, photograph © disparkys / flickr

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