Daily Insults, Judgments, and Humiliation

The stream of daily insults, judgments, and humiliation that people with obesity encounter typically get lost in pious discussions about the problem of obesity and a naive preoccupation with preventing a condition that already affects two thirds of American adults. But a daily diary study of weight stigmatization in women recently published in the Journal of Health Psychology brings it into sharp focus.

Jason Seacat and colleagues documented more than a thousand experiences of 50 women with excess weight and obesity in just one week of their lives. They found that BMI, age, educational status, interpersonal interactions, and daily activities all played a role in these experiences.

By treating obesity as a personal or social problem, instead of a medical problem, enough people feel empowered to offer unsolicited advice that routine activities for people with obesity are filled with insults that become a part of the background noise. Diaries captured a range of examples:

Teenagers made animal sounds [moo] outside of a store I was in.

I was told what a bad mother I am because I can’t set limits as to what my son or his friends eat during sleepovers, because I can’t even control myself.

Boyfriend’s mother denied me access to food, also stated that I was so fat because I was lazy.

It doesn’t help. The authors note:

Healthful activities such as maintaining a diet and exercise regimen are already challenging for most individuals, but when the additional burden of weight stigmatization is added to daily life, these goals may become unattainable.

Commenting for the Obesity Society, Ted Kyle told Healthday:

Most everybody struggles with some kind of health issue but obesity is something you wear on the outside. People feel they have permission — and some feel they have an obligation — to offer unsolicited comments or advice. They are mistaken.

Click here to read the study and here to read more in HealthDay.

Point, photograph © Sarah / flickr

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