30/05/2012 10:14 BST | Updated 30/05/2012 10:40 BST

Obesity Stigma: Overweight Women Subjected To ‘Fat Prejudice' Even After Weight Loss

Overweight women are tainted with the stigma of obesity even after they’ve lost a significant amount of weight, a revealing study has discovered.

The large study, conducted by researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, University of Manchester and Monash University, discovered that large women continue to receive anti-fat prejudice even after they lost weight and are now slim.

During the study, researchers asked a group of participants to read descriptions of women who had either lost up to 70 pounds (32kg), had remained the same weight for a long period of time and those who were currently obese or thin.

fat stigma

Volunteers were quizzed on their opinions about the women’s attributes – such as how attractive they found them and their view on obese people.

Researchers were surprised to discover that participants expressed a greater bias against overweight people after reading about women who had lost weight than after reading about women who had remained a stable weight - regardless of whether they were fat or thin.

It was clear from the findings that people who were obese in the past, were perceived to be less attractive than those who have always been thin, despite having identical weight.

The study author were further shocked when the negative attitudes towards obese people increased after being (falsely) informed that weight is ‘easily controlled’.

Talking about the results, co-author Dr Kerry O’Brien said in a statement: "The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight-loss.

"Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity."

Researchers believe these findings reflect on how powerful obesity stigma is to people who’ve been overweight and that it appears to overshadow the obesity itself.

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"The findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight,” says fellow co-author Dr Janet Latner.

“Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by this prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level."

A separate poll of 2,000 people by Reuters discovered the fat prejudice is a big problem, with 61% of people admitting that obesity is down to ‘personal choices about eating and exercise’ and that fat people only have themselves to blame.


Fat prejudice has also made its way into our workforce too, as a recent report published in the International Journal of Obesity revealed that employers discriminate against overweight women when applying for jobs and receive lower starting salaries than their non-overweight colleagues.

Another study by John Hopkins University in Baltimore also found that obese people even receive fat prejudice from doctors.

Researchers discovered that doctors are more likely to assume that a fat person has not been taking their medication as prescribed.

Doctors and nurses also spend less time counselling obese patients about healthy lifestyle and diet, believing it could fall on deaf ears.

This stigma could cause people to avoid being treated for serious diet-related conditions like diabetes because of the negative treatment they receive from health professionals.

Check out our round-up of celebrities who have slimmed down...

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