Losing the weight but not the stigma

March 9, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Obese people who lose weight will encounter far less social stigma and may even be seen as fitter than if they had been lean all along, but they may still face prejudice relating to how they lost weight, a new study suggests.

People who achieve a healthy weight through exercise and diet are seen more favourably than those who have had surgery, such as a , the study found.

In a paper published in the , researchers from the UNSW School of Psychology - led by PhD student Jasmine Fardouly and supervised by Dr. Lenny Vartanian – set out to study what impact has on social bias against obese people.

“It’s well-known that, as well as suffering adverse health, overweight and obese people are often stereotyped as lazy, incompetent and lacking self-control,” says Dr. Vartanian. “Many obese people are motivated to lose weight to reduce that bias, but few studies have actually looked to see whether success in losing weight also succeeds in changing attitudes.”

Ms. Fardouly says they found that those negative attitudes can indeed swing markedly the other way: “People tend to see an obese person who sheds a lot of weight as someone who eats more healthily, exercises more and is more competent and less sloppy.

“But that may be because people assume the weight loss was a result of better diet and more exercise. If they are told it was the result of surgery, our findings suggest they will view a previously obese person in some of the same ways as they did before – as someone who is lazy, lacks willpower and does not exercise enough.”

The study involved 73 psychology students being shown a photograph of an obese woman named Susan (not her real name), who had a body-mass index of almost 40 (much higher than a healthy BMI which is between 20 and 25). They were given Susan’s basic biographical information, asked to answer a series of questions about her lifestyle, and to rate her personality and behavioral traits.

Then they were then shown a more recent photograph - similar in clothes, facial expression and pose - after Susan had undergone a dramatic weight loss, down to a BMI of just 22. Some were told that she had used either surgery or and exercise, while others were given no explanation.

Regardless of the explanation given, the students generally rated Susan far more favourably for having lost weight. Even those given no explanation believed she was now eating more healthily and exercising more, and was more competent than before. But those who were told that the weight loss had been achieved through surgery judged her more negatively.

Weight-loss surgery patients may not be able to overcome the obesity stigma because surgery may be perceived as the lazy option, says Dr. Vartanian.

People mistakenly believe that losing weight through surgery does not require the effort and discipline that through and dieting does, the researchers say in the paper:  “Thus, despite choosing to undergo weight-loss surgery to better their health and reduce stigma, obese individuals may continue to be viewed as conforming to the obesity stereotype, and hence be considered lazy and lacking willpower.”

Explore further: Shame on you: tough-love approach to obesity may backfire

Related Stories

Shame on you: tough-love approach to obesity may backfire

May 3, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Tough love may not be the way to motivate overweight and obese people to change their habits for the better, a new study suggests.

Exercise plays key role in managing obesity: study

February 21, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- In spite of recent media reports suggesting that exercise may not be useful in obesity management, overweight and obese people should not be discouraged from taking it up, according to a paper published ...

Weight-loss surgery cost-effective for all obese

July 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Bariatric surgery is not only cost-effective for treating people who are severely obese, but also for those who are mildly obese, according to a new study from Washington University School of Medicine ...

Positive media portrayals of obese individuals reduce weight stigma

February 21, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Presenting obese individuals in a positive, non-stereotypical manner in the media could help reduce weight-biased attitudes held by the public, finds a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity ...

Recommended for you

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tangent2
not rated yet Mar 09, 2012
[quote]People mistakenly believe that losing weight through surgery does not require the effort and discipline that losing weight through exercise and dieting does, the researchers say in the paper: Thus, despite choosing to undergo weight-loss surgery to better their health and reduce weight stigma, obese individuals may continue to be viewed as conforming to the obesity stereotype, and hence be considered lazy and lacking willpower.[/quote]

I would like to see where this information came from, since this article does not make any further mention of it at all. If people are mistaken in this belief, at least offer evidence of why they are mistaken.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.