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Obesity Stigma

Stigma and discrimination toward obese persons are pervasive and pose numerous consequences for their psychological and physical health. Despite decades of science documenting weight stigma, its public health implications are widely ignored. Instead, obese persons are blamed for their weight, with common perceptions that weight stigmatization is justifiable and may motivate individuals to adopt healthier behaviors. We examine evidence to address these assumptions and discuss their public health implications.

On the basis of current findings, we propose that weight stigma is not a beneficial public health tool for reducing obesity. Rather, stigmatization of obese individuals threatens health, generates health disparities, and interferes with effective obesity intervention efforts.

The prejudice faced by obese people takes a great toll. Many people tease others about their weight, perhaps thinking the teasing would help motivate them to lose weight. But evidence points to the contrary: the pain and isolation many overweight and obese people feel can actually contribute to future weight gain, rather than setting them on a path toward better health.

We also need to address weight-based stigma and bullying. At a minimum, this means ceasing to reproduce and legitimate negative stereotypes via public health messages about fatness as inherently pathological and the product of sloth and gluttony. Ideally, we need to work with our government officials and community leader to design policies to combat weight-based stigma in society at large and within the medical professions specifically.