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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 19 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 38
Weight-shaming makes people fatter, British study shows
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Weight-shaming makes people fatter, British study shows

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A study by University College in London suggests that making people feel ashamed about being overweight could lead them to gain weight rather than lose it.

The study, published in the scientific journal Obesity, examined data from some 3,000 British adults over the age of 50, who had taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Among adults in the sample, those who had experienced weight discrimination put on more weight than those who did not.

Examples of 'weight discrimination' included being treated disrespectfully, receiving poor service in shops, and being harassed.

One in 20 respondents reported weight discrimination; but in the morbidly obese group, one in three reported discrimination. 'Morbid obesity' is usually defined as having a body mass index equal to or above 35 or 40, and is associated with a variety of potentially fatal health problems.

In the study, men and women reported similar levels of weight discrimination.

Over the four-year period of the study, people in all weight groups who said they had experienced weight discrimination added, on average, nearly 1 kg. in weight, or just over 2 lbs.

Those who did not experience these negative attitudes typically lost 0.7 kg.

The researchers say this suggests that blaming and shaming people for being overweight is counterproductive.

Instead, they added, it is better to be supportive and encouraging.

Researchers said there was no evidence of a causal relationship between weight-shaming and weight gain, but discrimination could lead to what they called 'comfort eating.'

'There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight,' lead researcher Dr. Sarah Jackson said.

'Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food.

'Weight discrimination has also been shown to make people feel less confident about taking part in physical activity, so they tend to avoid it.'

The study said 'widespread weight bias' had also been reported among healthcare professionals, and not just among the general public.

Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Centre at University College, said weight discrimination was part of the obesity problem - not the solution.

'Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment,' she said.

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