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Science Weighs in on Body Size Stigma

It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week! Because size stigma is a cultural problem, that is, large people have difficulty due to the negative meanings society ascribes to fat, they fare better when they understand the physical effects that stigma has on their nervous systems and can resist internalizing such arbitrary prejudices.

*STUDY: “Associations of weight stigma with cortisol and oxidative stress independent of adiposity, “Tomiyama, A. Janet; Epel, Elissa S.; McClatchey, Trissa M.; Poelke, Gina; Kemeny, Margaret E.; McCoy, Shannon K.; Daubenmier, Jennifer, Health Psychology, Vol 33(8), Aug 2014, 862-867. doi: 10.1037/hea0000107.
Result: “Independent of abdominal fat, weight stigma was significantly related to measures of cortisol…as well as high oxidative stress. Perceived stress mediated the relationship between weight stigma consciousness and the cortisol awakening process.
Conclusion: “…Weight stigma is associated with greater biochemical stress, independent of level of adiposity. It is possible that weight stigma may contribute to poor health underlying some forms of obesity.”
What can you do? Understand that the last thing you want to feel when you are the victim of stigmatization is stressed that you are at fault. This reaction increases anxiety physically and damages your body at the cellular level. Avoid getting angry, although it is appropriate to stand up for yourself. Do not internalize what people say about you or your body and view stigmatizers as poorly informed and/or uncompassionate people.
*STUDY: “Obesity stigmatization as the status quo: Structural considerations and prevalence among young adults in the U.S., “Suman Ambwani, Katherine M. Thomas, Christopher J. Hopwood, Sara A. Moss, Carlos M. Grilo, Eating Behaviors, Vol. 15, Issue 3, Aug, 2014, pp 366–370.
Result: “At least one stigmatizing attitude was endorsed by 92.5% of respondents… Distinct clusters of negative attitudes were identified involving beliefs that ‘obese people suffer’ and ‘obese people are inferior.”
Conclusion: “Data suggest that large proportions of young U.S. adults harbor negative attitudes toward obese persons….related to pitying the obese and those related to perceiving the obese with harsh judgment.”
What can you do? Resist accepting anyone’s judgment of you. Make sure you don’t pick up others’ attitudes and pity or feel sorry for yourself. Rather, go all out to replace self-judgment with self-compassion. No one can do this for you. You can’t force society to stop judging you, but you can stop judging yourself.

*STUDY: “Obesity bias in primary care providers,” Khandalavala BN, Rojanala A, Geske JA, Koran-Scholl JB, Guck TP, Department of Family Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Family Medicine, [2014, 46(7):532-535]. (PMID:25058546)
Result: “More experienced primary care professionals reported greater bias toward obese people than less experienced colleagues.”
Conclusion: “Ongoing continuing education that recognizes the wide prevalence of obesity, encourages respect for people of size, and mitigates obesity stigma should be promoted for all providers, particularly those who have been in practice for many years.”
What can you do? When you have a choice of primary care providers (or, extrapolating, perhaps any kind of health care provider) pick a doc on the younger rather than the older side. If you already have a more experienced provider, speak up and challenge weight or fat stigmatizing comments. Do not allow yourself to be mistreated or undertreated because of your size.