A new study, published in the journal Obesity, suggests that people with obesity are not only commonly stigmatized, but are blatantly dehumanized.
Researchers from the University of Liverpool in the U.K. surveyed more than 1,500 participants living in the U.K., U.S. or India. The online surveys asked participants to rate how evolved they considered different groups of people to be on a scale from 0 to 100.
The researchers also recorded the BMI of those completing the survey to see whether the dehumanization of obese individuals was more common among thin people. The team also investigated whether dehumanization predicted support for health policies that discriminate against people because of their body weight.
The findings show that, on average, participants rated people with obesity as “less evolved” and human than those without obesity. On average, participants placed people with obesity approximately 10 points below people without obesity. Blatant dehumanization was most common among thinner participants, but was also observed among participants who would be medically classed as being “overweight” or “obese.”
“It’s too common for society to present and talk about obesity in dehumanizing ways, using animalistic words to describe problems with food (e.g. ‘pigging out’) or using images that remove the dignity of people living with obesity,” said Dr. Eric Robinson from the University of Liverpool.
Obesity is a complex medical condition driven by genetic, environmental and social factors. It is now a major health concern in most developed countries: Around one-third of adults in the U.S. and one-quarter of adults in the U.K. are now medically defined as having obesity.
“Obesity is a complex problem driven by poverty and with significant genetic, psychological and environmental components,” Robinson said. “Blatant or subtle dehumanization of any group is morally wrong and in the context of obesity, what we also know is that the stigma surrounding obesity is actually a barrier to making long-term healthy lifestyle changes.”
In addition, those who blatantly dehumanized people with obesity were more likely to support health policies that discriminate against people because of their weight.
“Our results expand on previous literature on obesity stigma by showing that people with obesity are not only disliked and stigmatized, but are explicitly considered to be less human than those without obesity,” said Dr. Inge Kersbergen, now a research fellow at the University of Sheffield.
“The fact that levels of dehumanization were predictive of support for policies that discriminate against people with obesity suggests that dehumanization may be facilitating further prejudice.”
Source: University of Liverpool