Hubble Finds a Clue

Reducing Weight Bias: Here’s a Pretty Strong Clue

People living with obesity find themselves swimming in a vast sea of weight bias. Obesity clinicians and researchers see it all the time. Knowing how to drain it away is hard because everyone has an opinion. But not many people have empiric evidence. At the Canadian Obesity Summit this week, Sarah Nutter and Angela Alberga presented a pretty strong clue for something that works.

Identifying Obesity as a Chronic Disease Helps

Nutter and colleagues conducted an elegant, randomized, controlled experiment. They recruited 309 people and split them into three groups. One group read an article about obesity as a chronic disease. Another group read an article with accurate information about obesity, except that it stated that obesity was not considered to be a chronic disease. The third group read something that had nothing to do with obesity.

In this controlled experiment, reading that obesity is a chronic disease had three measurable effects. It produced more positive feelings about people with obesity. Empathy for people with obesity is important. Reading about obesity as a disease left people with fewer false assumptions that obesity is a condition that people choose to have.

In short, a brief exposure to facts that define obesity as a chronic disease left people with fewer negative feelings about people with obesity. That’s what we call less bias.

The Authors Explain

Alberga explained that, in terms of weight bias, the decision to declare obesity a chronic disease was a leap of faith:

One of the goals of declaring obesity a disease by both the American and Canadian Medical Associations was to help reduce weight bias. However, empirical evidence was lacking. Would this declaration improve attitudes towards people living with obesity? We thought it was important to investigate this question empirically. We wanted to understand the effects of declaring obesity a disease on weight bias in a public sample.

Nutter explained why they were so pleased with the results:

Results are consistent with everything we know about what it takes to reduce weight bias. Increasing positive affect helps. We also know from prior research that understanding the limited controllability of weight may help improve attitudes toward people living with obesity.

Making policy is a messy business. Often it’s a leap of faith. So having some real evidence for cause and effect is very satisfying.

Click here for the study abstract. Here you will find a solid review of what works to reduce weight bias. For more on the importance of reducing weight stigma, click here.

Hubble Finds a Clue, photograph © NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / flickr

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April 28, 2017