The Dangers of Weight Stigma
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Today’s post is going to be a little more on the serious side. It is an important issue that has been altogether ignored (by both society and health care) for far too long…I am talking about weight stigma.
If you haven’t heard of weight stigma before, it is essentially the social rejection of individuals that don’t comply with or fit into the prevailing societal notion of what constitutes an “appropriate” body weight or size. It stems from a culture that tends to conflate body size with health, work ethic, attractiveness, and willpower. Weight stigma is as prevalent as other forms of discrimination, including racism, and women are more likely to be the victims of it (shocking, I know).
Weight discrimination is not only present in social settings; it is pervasive even in employment. Studies have found that individuals that are overweight or obese receive unfair treatment in hiring, promotions, as well as job terminations; they are perceived as lazy and are often victims of derogatory humour. This conduct is unfortunately perpetuated even in health care. Physicians, nurses, medical school students, and even dietitians are all guilty of exhibiting weight stigma, as they tend to view their overweight patients as ‘lazy’, ‘non-compliant’, or ‘lacking willpower’. This perception directly results in decreased quality of care and contributes to compromised health status in the patients.
Another thing to note is that weight discrimination is in and of itself obesogenic; in other words, it actually perpetuates and supports weight gain. Experiments have shown that when individuals experience weight stigma, they tend to eat more and demonstrate less self-regulation. They are also less likely to engage in physical activity and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone implicated in fat gain, are higher. The consequences of weight stigma don’t end there; it has shown to be a risk factor for compromised mental health as well, contributing to anxiety, mood disorders like depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.
To sum that up: weight stigma is dangerous.
Weight stigma and diet culture go hand in hand, and I’ll be going deeper into the pitfalls of diet culture in a later post. For now, I want to draw attention to this weight-based form of discrimination. It is important to acknowledge the perpetual feedback loop that is created; not only does fat-shaming not induce positive behaviour change, but it actively contributes to a decline in the individual’s physical and mental health.
Let’s all try to be more mindful and cognizant of our word choices and subconscious biases.