Gone But Not Forgotten: The Sticky Stigma of Obesity

Weight loss obesity calorie articleA recent collaboration between researchers (University of Hawaii – Mānoa, University of Manchester, and Monash University) considered the attitudes of young people towards those who currently are or were previously overweight, as compared to those who have always been thin. Probably no one was surprised to learn that participants preferred images and stories of always-thin people to those of currently heavy ones, but oddly enough, it appears that previously fat folks, even those who had lost large amounts of weight, were the least popular. One interpretation of this might be that still-heavy folks were seen as weak or hopeless, unable to resolve their weight problems, while those who had managed to successfully lose weight were viewed as lazy slackers who had “chosen” to be fat in the past. Instead of respecting or admiring the effort involved in massive weight loss, the study participants showed disdain for the once-obese, similar perhaps to how we might expect people to react to an ex-convict. These attitudes were further tested after exposure to information about weight loss. Body fatness was alternately described as being easily controllable through diet and exercise modifications, or as a complex issue of genetics, physiology, and environment (the latter being a much more accurate presentation). The researchers found that the popular diet & exercise theory, promulgated daily in the media, caused participants to react even more negatively towards obese individuals. In other words, lightweight news stories by “health reporters”, combined with advertisements for quick and easy weight loss products and programs, contribute significantly to societal attitudes about obesity, while the real research, which shows no easy answers, is continually swept under the rug. I suppose news outlets consider that information (a lot of which is covered on this site) too difficult and complicated for the average consumer to comprehend. Or perhaps science just doesn’t sell as many papers as the typical glossy “before & after” shots. Learn more about this fascinating look at attitudes towards obesity from Time’s Healthland article or the original research in the journal Obesity.