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Weight discrimination can keep you fat

News | Adelaide Bariatric Centre

29 Aug 2013 10:23 AM


Have you ever discriminated against because of your weight? Maybe you’ve been ignored while shopping for clothes, in the queue at a nightclub, or perhaps you were more explicitly bullied verbally about your size.

Negative attitudes surrounding obesity are pervasive. Untrue stereotypes about laziness and socioeconomic standings of overweight people have been shown to result in severe psychological consequences for people that carry extra weight. But now it’s been proven that weight discrimination also has serious physical consequences.

More than 6000 Americans aged over 50 were interviewed over the course of six years to determine the long-term effect of perceived weight discrimination on their waistlines. Rather than motivating them to lose weight, exposure to weight discrimination caused them to either become obese or stay stuck in obesity.

In fact, exposure to weight discrimination made a person 2.5 times more likely to become obese within six years. Even among those who perceived their own weight as normal but had encountered weight discrimination, the risk of long-term obesity was greatly increased.

Among those who were already obese, weight discrimination made them three times more likely to stay obese than those who did not feel discriminated against.

Discrimination of all kinds can make you fat

The research backs up a Purdue University study that indicated persistent discrimination of any kind - based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, weight or otherwise - can stretch the waistline. Men were particularly vulnerable, according to researchers.

“Males who persistently experienced high levels of discrimination during a nine-year period were more likely to see their waist circumference increase by an inch compared to those who did not report discrimination," said Haslyn Hunte, assistant professor of health and kinesiology.

"Females who reported similar experiences also saw their waistlines grow by more than half an inch. This shows how discrimination hurts people physically, and it's a reminder how people's unfair treatment of others can be very powerful.”

Default coping strategies amongst people who feel shamed or disempowered were the biggest factor in the weight gain after discrimination.

"People who feel unfairly treated should be aware of this connection between the stress related to their perception and consider coping strategies like exercise or other healthy behaviors as a coping mechanism for such stress,” said Ms Hunte.

More significantly, though, the study is a reminder that as a society, discrimination ought to be stamped out, if only for our health.