Even after losing weight, formerly obese people may still face a “residual stigma,” according to new research.
In the new study, published in the journal Obesity, researchers asked young people to read vignettes describing a woman who had either lost a significant amount of weight — 70 pounds — or who had remained at the same weight. Participants were then asked their opinions about this woman, such as how attractive they found her.
What the researchers found is that women who are currently thin were viewed differently, depending on their weight history, said Dr. Janet Latner, lead researcher and associate professor of psychology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and her colleague, Dr. Kerry O’Brien.
“Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight,” she said.
Latner says this “residual stigma” might explain the lower-than-expected earnings and less favorable jobs held by women who were previously overweight.
The study also examined the dislike of obese people after reading about women who had lost weight or who did not lose weight.
Participants expressed greater bias against obese people after reading about women who had lost weight than after reading about women who had remained at a stable weight — regardless of whether the weight-stable woman was thin or obese.
She added that one of the more disturbing findings was that negative attitudes toward obese people increase when participants are shown that body weight is easily controllable.
That is not the case, given the many genetic and biological factors that contribute to obesity, said Latner.
“The best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that our physiology and genetics, and the food environment, are the really big players in our weight status and weight loss,” added O’Brien.
“Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable regardless of will power, knowledge,and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as ‘fat’ are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need a rethink of our approaches to, and views of, weight.”
“These findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight,” said Latner.
“Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring, that it may even outlast the obesity itself. Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by obesity prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level.”
Source: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa