Exclusion, Shame, and Anger in Obesity

Social exclusion is one of the prime ways that people experience the bias and stigma associated with obesity. New research published in Eating Behaviors helps explain why this is so damaging. The research also provides clues for strategies to relieve the problem.

In a randomized, controlled study of emotional responses to social exclusion, researchers from Switzerland and Germany evaluated the differences between people with obesity and a control group with BMI < 30. They measured feelings of anger, sadness, and shame in a total of 299 people.

They found that social exclusion prompted higher levels of all three negative emotions for both the people with and without obesity. But in the group with obesity, the impact on feelings of shame was significantly greater than it was in people with lower BMIs. For anger and sadness, no differences were seen between the two groups.

It’s worth noting that this heightened feeling of shame occurred even though the people in this study were not visible to others with whom they were interacting. In other words, no one could see them — all the interactions were online.

These findings add to the importance of strategies for addressing the shame and blame that people with obesity experience. Other research has shown that people can learn skills for controlling their responses to such experiences.

More fundamentally, it’s time to end both subtle and overt shaming and blaming of people with obesity. It compounds the problem.

Click here to read the study in Eating Behaviors.

Shame, photograph © Tiago Almeida / flickr

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