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Reducing Weight And Stigma Can Be Complementary Goals

The social stigma of being overweight is often internalized by people with obesity, causing them to blame and devalue themselves because of their weight. While it’s known that weight “self-stigma” is linked to poor mental and physical health, little is known about how to help people overcome it.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that obese people who received a new stigma-reduction intervention, along with standard behavioral weight loss treatment, devalued themselves less compared to participants who only received the weight loss treatment.

“Our findings suggest that incorporating an intervention that targets internalized weight stigma into weight management programs may be beneficial for individuals who struggle with poor self-image due to their weight,” said the study’s principal investigator and lead author Rebecca Pearl, PhD, an assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn.

Previous research has shown that, beyond the effects of body mass index (BMI) and depression, self-directed weight stigma is tied to a greater risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

For the new study, the researchers conducted the first randomized controlled trial of an intervention designed to reduce internalized weight stigma as part of a weight management program.

A total of 72 adults with obesity who reported experiencing and internalizing weight stigma participated in the six-month weight loss study. In one group, participants were given behavioral weight loss treatment and access to the Weight Bias Internalization and Stigma (BIAS) program, which provided skills to help them combat negative weight-related thoughts, cope with weight-stigmatizing experiences, and boost their self- and body-acceptance.

Another group of volunteers only received behavioral weight loss treatment, which also included more information on cooking tips and recipes.

Using two validated measures, the team assessed self-reported weight stigma at baseline, week 12, and week 26. The team also examined other self-reported measures of psychological and behavioral factors, along with weight, blood pressure, and waist circumference.

The results show that participants who received the Weight BIAS program experienced significantly greater decreases on one measure of internalized weight stigma — self-devaluation — than those who received weight loss treatment alone.

However, the researchers note that there were no differences between groups for the other measures of internalized weight stigma. Groups also did not differ in changes in other measures of psychological well-being, behavior change, or changes in weight and other health metrics, with participants in both groups showing improvements.

For example, participants in the Weight BIAS program lost an average of 4.5 percent of their starting body weight at 6 months, compared with 5.9% for those in the standard weight loss group.

Participants rated the Weight BIAS program highly in their assessment of how much they liked it and benefited from it. The weight loss intervention was also rated highly in both groups.

“Weight loss and stigma reduction can seem like contradictory goals to some people,” said Pearl. “Our results, however, suggest that they can be complementary. We can promote both at the same time.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


Reducing Weight And Stigma Can Be Complementary Goals

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Reducing Weight And Stigma Can Be Complementary Goals. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Jan 2020 (Originally: 26 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Jan 2020
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