Weight stigma (also known as weight bias) refers to negative opinions, assumptions, attitudes or responses toward a person because they are either overweight or live with obesity. Weight discrimination is the fourth most common form of social discrimination amongst adults – and following closely after age, gender, and race discrimination. It is the only form of discrimination still socially acceptable.
This can come from a trusted family member, friend, community leader or even health provider, and sometimes weight bias comes from those people you don’t know, like policy makers, strangers in the street and the media.
Weight stigma is harmful and it can prevent people accessing the services they need.
- Weight stigma discourages people accessing health or medical help that they may need
- Weight stigma can discourage healthy behaviours like physical activity
- Weight stigma can lead to unhealthy eating and weight management practices
- Weight stigma can cause internalised stigma and impacts self-esteem
- Weight stigma can cause psychological damage, lead to depression, anxiety and adversely impact mental health
Overweight and obesity are commonly perceived as the result of lifestyle choice implying that someone is to blame for their excess weight. While not denying personal responsibility, obesity is not as simple as that. There are many complex social, biological, economic and environmental drivers of obesity which means that some people are more likely than others to have a higher body mass. This is why at WIN, we provide a voice for those with lived experience of weight bias.
Want to check out the research yourself?
Rubino F, Puhl RM, Cummings DE, et al. Joint international consensus statement for ending stigma of obesity. Nat Med. 2020;26(4):485-497. doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0803-x
Tomiyama AJ, Carr D, Granberg EM, et al. How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Med. 2018;16(1):123. Published 2018 Aug 15. doi:10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5
Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. Am J Public Health. 2010 Jun;100(6):1019-28. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491. Epub 2010 Jan 14. PMID: 20075322; PMCID: PMC2866597.
Wu YK, Berry DC. Impact of weight stigma on physiological and psychological health outcomes for overweight and obese adults: A systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2018;74(5):1030-1042. doi:10.1111/jan.13511
Phelan SM, Burgess DJ, Yeazel MW, Hellerstedt WL, Griffin JM, van Ryn M. Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity. Obes Rev. 2015;16(4):319-326. doi:10.1111/obr.12266
Lawrence BJ, Kerr D, Pollard CM, et al. Weight bias among health care professionals: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2021;29(11):1802-1812. doi:10.1002/oby.23266