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“Fat Shaming” Has Negative Consequences

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The term "fat shaming" has garnered plenty of attention lately. Some believe that criticizing people for their size will inspire them to lose weight. According to researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the practice can be harmful.

Their study, published in Obesity (2017; 25 (2), 317–22), theorized that overweight people who internalize weight bias might be more likely to present with metabolic syndrome than those who had not been criticized. The researchers recruited 159 mostly African-American females aged 21–65 to participate in a 1-year weight loss intervention. Blood samples, weight and height, weight bias and depression assessments were gathered from each participant.

After analyzing the data and classifying participants as having either high or low levels of "weight bias internalization," the researchers determined that those in the high-level group were three times more likely
to have metabolic syndrome. This group was also six times more likely to have high triglycerides compared with the low-level group.

The researchers could only guess as to the mechanisms behind these results. Study authors suggested that people with a high level of internalized weight bias might tend to overeat and avoid physical activity, but added that further investigation would be required to deduce causation.

Regardless of the reason, they urged the public to be sensitive to the words they
use with overweight and obese people. "Disparagement of others due to their weight and messages that perpetuate blame and shame, if internalized, can cause harm to the physical and mental health of individuals with obesity," warned lead researcher, Rebecca Pearl, PhD.

"As health care practitioners, we can help challenge negative, internalized stereotypes by educating patients about the complex biological and environmental factors that contribute to obesity, while providing concrete strategies to help patients manage their weight and improve their health."

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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