At Work

Fat Shaming: Real and Different for Men

Obesity affects men and women differently. It’s an obvious fact – whether you’re living with obesity yourself or you care for people living with it. But discussions of weight stigma and fat shaming often focus almost exclusively on women. This needs to change. New research published in Obesity this week makes it clear that shaming and stigma has a big impact on men, as well as women.

Experienced by 40% of Men

Based on research with 1,513 men, Mary Himmelstein and colleagues found that two out of every five men have been on the receiving end of weight stigma. She noted that this rate is very similar to what women report and yet, we know much less about how men experience fat shaming:

We don’t really think about this as a problem for men. Men aren’t on the radar when we think about weight stigma.

I think in general it is harder for men to admit they’re struggling. This is not something men talk about with their friends over coffee the way women might.

More Prevalent at Low and High BMI

One difference stands out in the pattern of weight bias that Himmelstein found in men. Women tend to experience weight stigma in a straight line. When a woman’s weight goes up, the likelihood of shaming goes up proportionately. In this study, the researchers found a different pattern for men. It was more of a U-shaped curve.

At a healthy BMI and even with a little excess weight, men didn’t report so much stigma. But with low body weight or a BMI in the range of obesity, stigma increased sharply. Himmelstein noted that this may be related to stereotypes about masculinity.

OAC President Joe Nadglowski commented on the importance of uncovering bias against men with obesity:

In fact, while women are often applauded for addressing their weight, men are often stigmatized by their peers for engaging in similar efforts. The reality is that weight bias doesn’t recognize whether someone is a female or male. All individuals with obesity tend to experience bias at some point.

Over and over, we stumble upon assumptions that get in the way of dealing objectively with obesity. Stigma and bias lie at the root of many such problems – for both men and women.

Click here for the study and here for more from HealthDay.

At Work, photograph © Obesity Action Coalition / OAC Image Gallery

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April 25, 2018