By Rebecca Puhl, University of Connecticut

Connecticut (United States), June 2 (The Conversation) Lazy. Demotivated. No self-discipline. No will.

These are just a few of the common stereotypes rooted in American society about people who have a higher body weight or a larger body size. Known as the weight stigma, these attitudes cause many Americans to be blamed, teased, intimidated, abused, and discriminated against.

There is nowhere to hide from the stigma of weight in society. Decades of research confirm the presence of weight-related stigmas in workplaces, schools, healthcare facilities, public places and mass media, as well as in close interpersonal relationships with friends and families . It’s everywhere.

I’m a psychologist and researcher at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. For 20 years my team has studied weight stigma. We examined the origins and prevalence of weight-related stigma, its presence in different societal contexts, the damage it causes to people’s health, and strategies to combat this problem.

We conducted a recent international study that clearly shows that weight stigma is widespread, damaging and difficult to eradicate. This societal devaluation is a real and legitimate experience for people from different countries, languages ​​and cultures.

A persistent American bias

Among American adults, weight stigma is a common experience, with up to 40% of them reporting past experiences of teasing, unfair treatment, and discrimination based on weight. These experiences are more common in people with a high body mass index or those suffering from obesity and in women. For young people, body weight is one of the most common reasons for teasing and bullying.

The fact that over 40% of Americans suffer from obesity has not softened the public’s attitude towards people in this group. Although societal attitudes towards other stigmatized groups have become less prejudicial in recent decades, there has been little change in weight bias. In some cases, it gets worse.

The prevailing views that people are personally responsible for their weight, despite ample scientific evidence for the complex and multifactorial causes of obesity, are one of the reasons why weight stigma persists. This mindset is hard to change given America’s celebration of thinness, negative media portrayals of people with bigger bodies, and a thriving food industry. These factors reinforce the flawed premise that body weight is infinitely malleable, as does the lack of legislation to protect people from discrimination based on weight.

Contrary to public perceptions, the stigma of weight does not motivate people to lose weight. Instead, it worsens health and reduces the quality of life. The harmful effects of weight stigma can be real and lasting. They range from emotional distress – depressive symptoms, anxiety, low self-esteem – to eating disorders, unhealthy eating behaviors, reduced physical activity, weight gain, increased physiological stress, and avoidance of healthcare.

A shared fight

The stigma of weight is not unique to America. It exists all over the world. However, few studies have directly compared people’s experiences with weight stigma in different countries.

In our recent study, we compared experiences of weight stigma in six countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, UK and US. These countries share similar societal values ​​that reinforce personal blame for body weight, and do little to challenge weight shame and abuse. The participants were 13,996 adults (approximately 2,000 people per country) who were actively trying to manage their weight.

The biases experienced by people due to their heavier weight or height were found to be remarkably consistent across the six countries, with more than half of study participants – 58% on average – experiencing related stigma. by weight. The most common interpersonal sources of weight-related stigma were family members (76% -87%), classmates (72% -76%), and doctors (58% -73%). These experiences were most frequent and distressing during childhood and adolescence.

Many incorporated these stigmatizing experiences into how they felt about themselves. In this process of “internalizing weight biases” people apply negative societal stereotypes to themselves. They blame themselves for their weight and deem themselves inferior and deserve societal stigma.

We knew from our previous research that the internalization of weight bias has adverse health implications, and that was also true here. In all six countries, the more people internalize the weight bias, the more they gained weight in the past year, used food to cope with stress, avoided going to the gym, had an unhealthy body image and reported higher stress. These findings persisted regardless of people’s body size or their previous experiences of stigma.

Additionally, in all six countries, people with greater internalized weight bias reported poorer health-related quality of life and health care experiences. They avoided receiving health care, had less frequent checkups, and reported substandard health care compared to people who had less internalization.

The unique multinational perspective of our study reveals that weight stigma is commonly experienced, often internalized, and linked to poor health and health care in people trying to manage their weight. In that sense, dealing with the stigma of weight seems like a collective struggle, but it is a struggle that people are probably struggling with on their own.

Reasons to be optimistic

While there is still a long way to go to eliminate weight stigma, changes in societal attitudes are underway. In recent years, the evils of “fat shaming” have garnered increased public attention, as has the body positivity movement. Both are helping to escalate calls for efforts to end unfair weight-based treatment.

The medical community is also increasingly recognizing the need for action. In 2020, more than 100 medical and scientific organizations from nine countries signed a joint international consensus statement and pledge to draw attention to weight stigma and its harmful effects. These medical experts aim to change the blame rhetoric and help tackle the stigma of weight in media, public attitudes, and healthcare.

Our research shows broad and substantial public support for policies aimed at tackling weight discrimination. In a series of national studies, we found that over 70% of Americans support adding body weight as a protected category, alongside categories such as race and age, to existing rights laws. civic states. They also support new legislation that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on weight.

This would legitimize the stigma of weight as both a social injustice and a public health issue.

I believe broad and collective action is needed to resolve this problem, both within the United States and outside. While it might sound difficult, it’s basically pretty straightforward: it’s about respect, dignity, and equal treatment for people of all weights and sizes. (The Conversation) AMS

Warning :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI

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