Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Contrary to popular belief, “fat shaming” does not encourage people to eat less and lose weight – in fact, it could have the opposite effect, researchers from the University College London (UCL) Health Behavior Research Centre report Thursday in the journal Obesity.
The study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at data of 2,944 adults over the course of four years and found that those who reported being discriminated against because of their size actually gained more weight than those who did not. After accounting for baseline differences, the authors said that people who reported weight discrimination gained an average of 2.09 pounds, while those who did not lost 1.57 pounds.
According to UCL, the study participants were also asked whether or not they experienced day-to-day discrimination they believed to be due to their weight, including harassment and poor service in stores. Five percent of the participants reported experiencing weight discrimination, including 36 percent of men and women classified as morbidly obese.
The study authors said that, to compound matters, these individuals are often treated disrespectfully by their own doctors, said Gregory Walton and Edward Malnick of The Telegraph. Those health care providers, they added, often underplay the fact that there are several factors that can contribute to obesity, including genetics.
UCL researcher and lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson told Walton and Malnick that much of the problem centered around the “language of blame” which is often directed towards overweight people, as well as friends and family members who are well-meaning but still wind up pointing out something that is already obvious to the other person.
“Most people who are overweight are aware of it already and don’t need it pointed out to them. Telling them they are fat isn’t going to help – it is just going to make them feel worse,” she said. “There are lots of different causes of obesity, yet a lot of blame just seems to be on individuals and a lack of will power. Raising awareness of some of the factors involved might make it easier not to blame people.”
Dr. Jackson was quoted by The Guardian as stating that there is “no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight. Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain. Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating.”
Stress responses to such discrimination can increase a person’s appetite, especially for less-healthy and more energy-dense foods, she and her colleagues reported. They added that it has also been proven weight discrimination can cause people to feel less confident about participating in exercise, leading them to avoid physical activity.
While they did find a link between discrimination and comfort eating, their research did not find any concrete evidence that it directly caused weight gain, BBC News noted. However, senior author Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Centre at UCL, said this research clearly demonstrates that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem, not the solution.
“Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight,” she explained. “Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”
This is not the first paper this year to associate the “fat shaming” with obesity. In April, UCLA scientists found that females who are told they are too fat by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher were more likely to be obese by age 19. Similar research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in January found that presenting overweight people with the typical stigmas of being lazy or self-indulgent caused them to suffer from less self-control when it came to eating afterward.