Is Obesity Stigmatizing? Body Weight, Perceived Discrimination, Psychological Well-Being in the United States

Department of Sociology, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, Rutgers University, 30 College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.72). 10/2005; 46(3):244-59. DOI: 10.1177/002214650504600303
Source: PubMed


We investigate the frequency and psychological correlates of institutional and interpersonal discrimination reported by underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese I, and obese II/III Americans. Analyses use data from the Midlife Development in the United States study, a national survey of more than 3,000 adults ages 25 to 74 in 1995. Compared to normal weight persons, obese II/III persons (body mass index of 35 or higher) are more likely to report institutional and day-to-day interpersonal discrimination. Among obese II/III persons, professional workers are more likely than nonprofessionals to report employment discrimination and interpersonal mistreatment. Obese II/III persons report lower levels of self-acceptance than normal weight persons, yet this relationship is fully mediated by the perception that one has been discriminated against due to body weight or physical appearance. Our findings offer further support for the pervasive stigma of obesity and the negative implications of stigmatized identities for life chances.

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Available from: Michael Friedman, Oct 01, 2015
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    • "Research from other large-scale epidemiological studies has likewise shown that experiencing weight-based mistreatment is associated with lower self-acceptance, a construct analogous to self-esteem (Carr & Friedman, 2005). Hunger and Major (2014) found that weight stigma mediated the negative relationship between BMI and psychological wellbeing (i.e., self-esteem, depression, and quality of life). "
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    ABSTRACT: Weight stigma is pervasive, and a number of scholars argue that this profound stigma contributes to the negative effects of weight on psychological and physical health. Some lay individuals and health professionals assume that stigmatizing weight can actually motivate healthier behaviors and promote weight loss. However, as we review, weight stigma is consistently associated with poorer mental and physical health outcomes. In this article, we propose a social identity threat model elucidating how weight stigma contributes to weight gain and poorer mental and physical health among overweight individuals. We propose that weight-based social identity threat increases physiological stress, undermines self-regulation, compromises psychological health, and increases the motivation to avoid stigmatizing domains (e.g., the gym) and escape the stigma by engaging in unhealthy weight loss behaviors. Given the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the US, weight stigma thus has the potential to undermine the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans.
    Social and Personality Psychology Compass 06/2015; 9(6). DOI:10.1111/spc3.12172
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    • "The sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) explains how society establishes means to categorize people into “normal” and “abnormal,” defining the term stigma as a deeply discrediting attribute that involves feelings of shame. Carr and Friedman (2005) argue that obese people are stigmatized in accordance with the dimensions described by Goffman (1963): namely, the stigma is related to the obese body itself, which is defined as abnormal, and the obese person’s character, which links obesity to morality. In their study, they found that obese people felt stigmatized in situations related to work, health, and daily life in general (Carr & Friedman, 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: This study is grounded in a phenomenological lifeworld perspective. It aims at providing rich descriptions of lived experience of the process of losing weight after obesity surgery. Two women participated in in-depth interviews four times each during the first postoperative year. Based on the women's experiences, a meaning structure-the ambivalence of losing weight after obesity surgery-was identified across the women's processes of change. This consisted of five core themes: movement and activity-freedom but new demands and old restraints; eating habits and digestion-the complexity of change; appearance-smaller, but looser; social relations-stability and change; and being oneself-vulnerability and self-assurance. These core themes changed over time in terms of dominance. The experience of ambivalence is discussed according to a phenomenological perspective of the body as lived experience.
    International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being 01/2014; 9(1):22876. DOI:10.3402/qhw.v9.22876 · 0.93 Impact Factor
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    • "Although precise mechanisms are not clear [17], common underlying genetic factors [18] and biophysiological mechanisms [19] are implicated behind the relationship of obesity with poor mental health. Stigma and discrimination associated with being obese and overweight can lead to mental health consequences [20] [21]. Body image, which is Psychiatry Journal the psychological experience of the appearance and function of one's own body and an aspect of the person's mental representation of himself/herself [22], partially explains the relationship between obesity and mental distress [23]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background. There is conflicting evidence regarding the association of body mass index (BMI) with mental distress. Studies have focused on different dimensions of mental health and used different definitions and many of them have not controlled for confounding factors. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between frequent mental distress (FMD) and BMI among adults in the United States, with special emphasis on gender differences. Methods. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) for the year 2011 were used in logistic regression models to predict FMD, defined as having 14 or more days of poor mental health in the previous month. Sociodemographic factors, tobacco and alcohol use, diet and physical activity, and number of chronic diseases were controlled for. Results. 11.95% (n = 53,715) of the participants with valid responses (n = 496,702) had FMD. The adjusted ORs of having FMD among underweight, overweight, and obese females were 1.13 (95% CI: 1.10, 1.60), 1.10 (95% CI: 1.03, 1.19), and 1.21 (95% CI: 1.13, 1.31), respectively, but they were not statistically significant for males. Conclusions. These findings suggest a relationship between BMI and FMD, independent of other variables. It may be useful to explore longitudinal trend in this association.
    11/2013; 2013:230928. DOI:10.1155/2013/230928
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