Early Morning New Orleans

Weight Shaming Falls as Medical View of Obesity Grows

Trends in Agreement with Four Obesity NarrativesNew research to be presented at ObesityWeek 2016 indicates that weight shaming may be easing a bit. At the same time, the public increasingly understands that obesity is a medical condition. Between 2013 and 2016, public perception of obesity as a “personal problem of bad choices” has dropped from 44% to 34%. On top of that, public agreement that people with obesity need medical help increased significantly over the last year.

The research included data from more than 100,000 interviews with Americans since 2013. Bias against people with obesity is a daunting problem that discourages people from seeking medical care and can make obesity harder to overcome. In recent years, concerns about “fat shaming” have captured public attention and even sparked controversy in the U.S. campaign for president. Rebecca Puhl, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and Professor at the University of Connecticut, was senior author of the study. She commented on the importance of the research, saying:

We see encouraging signs here that the public may begin to reject some of the bias directed at people with obesity. Weight bias remains a significant source of harm to people living with obesity. It makes prevention and treatment of obesity much harder.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) sponsored the research. President and CEO Joe Nadglowski commented:

Putting an end to fat shaming and bias against people with obesity is one of our most important goals. Shame and blame only makes obesity worse. So these numbers tell us that we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.

This research was selected by the Obesity Society as one of the top-scoring studies at the ObesityWeek meeting and singled out for a special presentation on Thursday evening. Lead author Ted Kyle pointed to the growing agreement that people with obesity need medical help for their condition. He said:

For years the public and even healthcare professionals have looked at obesity as a personal failure and not one that should require help from medical professionals. We now see that the 2013 decision by the American Medical Association to classify obesity as a chronic disease was an important milestone. And this year, for the first time, more Americans agree than disagree that obesity is a disease that requires medical help.

This trend is gradual. It’s uneven. But it’s progress.

Click here for a pdf of the poster. If you’re attending ObesityWeek in New Orleans, be sure to come for the Poster Education Theater on Thursday at 7 pm, where co-investigator Diana Thomas will present the study.

Early Morning New Orleans, photograph © Ted Kyle

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


November 2, 2016

8 Responses to “Weight Shaming Falls as Medical View of Obesity Grows”

  1. November 02, 2016 at 6:18 am, Al Lewis said:

    um, except in the wellness industry, where weight-shaming is definitely a thing. I’ll be posting a blog on it at some point but here is one tidbit for now.


    You might say, “yes, but this vendor might be an outlier.” And indeed this vendor, Wellsteps, is an outlier: they were given the award as the best wellness vendor of 2016. https://theysaidwhat.net/2016/09/28/this-mornings-koop-award-raising-lying-to-an-art-form/

    • November 02, 2016 at 6:22 am, Ted said:

      Al, you’re right. This is a trend, but weight shaming remains a YUGE problem. The trend is slow and uneven.

  2. November 02, 2016 at 11:16 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    This is encouraging–at least forward progress.

    Meanwhile, in the nicotine world:


    Argh! Will take more than Calgon to take this away!


    • November 02, 2016 at 12:11 pm, Ted said:

      Recognizing our bias is a step toward setting ourselves free.

  3. November 04, 2016 at 2:58 pm, Asheley Skinner said:

    Unless you’re Jason Fung. https://twitter.com/drjasonfung/status/793919412080377862?s=09

  4. November 10, 2016 at 12:24 am, Daniele said:

    Very interesting work … we have to fight Obesity and not people affected by Obesity.
    You and Rebecca Puhl are a light in the darkness of weight stigma.
    Best regards from Italy

    • November 10, 2016 at 2:56 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Daniele!