Newswise — Weight stigma and discrimination are likely more common than previously studied, a new research study from Western New England University suggests.
The study, published this spring in the Journal of Health Psychology, is the first known of its kind to use a daily diary assessment of weight stigmatization among overweight and obese women.
“All the research done previously has used a retrospective design,” explains Jason Seacat, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts and the study’s lead author. “Researchers would look back on people’s lives by as many as 30 years and ask participants to recall these stigmatizing events. They were all coming up with relatively similar findings: that weight stigma was occurring, but that it wasn’t that frequent. Maybe once in a year to once in a lifetime.”
His study shows a pattern of more frequent, daily encounters with stigmatization, often from family and friends.
Among the 50 overweight or obese women studied, a total of 1077 stigmatizing events were reported over a week period for a daily average of 3.08 events per individual. Participants most frequently experienced “physical barriers” (84 percent), “nasty comments from others” (74 percent), “being stared at” (72 percent) and “others making negative assumptions” (72 percent).
Interpersonal stigma – e.g., a relative nagging you to lose weight – and public barriers were the most commonly experienced stigma.
“A surprisingly high number of stigma events came from close family members or friends,” Seacat says, citing experiences like a woman whose boyfriend’s mother withheld food and called her lazy.
“We have probably underestimated the size of the weight stigma problem,” he says. “People are encountering more barriers on a daily basis than is reported in the literature. Standing in line and overhearing someone comment on your size, having to ask for a lap band extension on an airplane, going into a clothing store and not finding something in your size… Those are all stigmatizing events, but we as a general public might not realize the effects those events can have on people.”