Moralizing Obesity Builds Stigma Three Ways

Almost 30 years ago, David Allison, Vincent Basile, and Harold Yuker were studying how to measure weight stigma. Among other things, they found belief in personal control over obesity is a key factor in bias against people with obesity. Likewise, disgust is a key factor. Together, these factors provide the basis for moralizing obesity. They are building blocks for stigma.

Now, in with three studies, Megan Ringel and Peter Ditto have found that moralizing obesity makes stigma worse in three ways.

1. Endorsing Discrimination

In the first of three studies, Ringel and Ditto looked at attitudes linked to a moral view of obesity. In people who moralize obesity, they found a stronger belief that obesity is a matter of personal control. They also found more disgust. And finally, they found more support for discriminating against people with obesity.

It’s morally justified, apparently.

2. Resisting Persuasive Arguments

In the second study, they found that people who look at obesity as a moral issue are less open. They resist other views. So reasons are less convincing to them. Moralized beliefs resist change. Minds are closed. Facts that persuade other people hold less meaning for people with moralized views of obesity.

3. Stigmatizing Surgery

Finally, moralization predicted more negative views of people who have bariatric surgery. The efforts that went into making a success of the surgery made no difference. People with a moralized view of obesity rated surgery patients as lazier, less competent, and embarrassing.

The Language of Moral Panic

The language of moral panic has been a key feature of efforts to address obesity. Hype the problem to spur action? It doesn’t work. Instead, the result is blame, shame, and inaction. This is not what we need, because it only fuels bias and stigma.

In fact, what we need is more objectivity. We need more curiosity about real solutions. And most of all, we need better care for the people affected.

Click here for the study by Ringel and Ditto.

Hell, photograph © Thomas Hawk / flickr

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August 30, 2019