Social stigma of obesity

The social stigma of obesity or anti-fat bias has caused difficulties and disadvantages for overweight and obese people. Weight stigma is similar and has been broadly defined as bias or discriminatory behaviors targeted at individuals because of their weight.[1][2] Such social stigmas can span one's entire life, as long as excess weight is present, starting from a young age and lasting into adulthood.[3] Several studies from across the world (e.g., United States, University of Marburg, University of Leipzig) indicate overweight and obese individuals experience higher levels of stigma relative to their thinner counterparts. In addition, they marry less often, experience fewer educational and career opportunities, and on average earn a lesser income than normal weight individuals.[3] Although public support regarding disability services, civil rights and anti-workplace discrimination laws for obese individuals have gained support across the years,[3] overweight and obese individuals still experience discrimination, which may have implications to physiological and psychological health. These issues are compounded with the significant negative physiological effects associated with obesity.[4]

Anti-fat bias refers to the prejudicial assumption of personality characteristics based on an assessment of a person as being overweight or obese. It is also known as "fat shaming". Fat activists allege anti-fat bias can be found in many facets of society,[5] and blame the media for the pervasiveness of this phenomenon.[6][7]


Research indicates that self-reported incidents of weight-based discrimination, has increased in the last few decades.[8] Individuals who are subjected to weight-related stigma, appear to be rated more negatively when compared with other groups, such as sexual minorities, and those with mental illness.[9]

Anti-fat bias has been observed in groups hoping to become physical education instructors. In one study, a group of 344 psychology or physical education majors at a New Zealand University were compared, and it was found that the prospective physical education teachers were more likely to display implicit anti-fat attitudes than the psychology majors.[10]

A number of studies have found that health care providers frequently have explicit and/or implicit biases against overweight people, and it has been found that overweight patients may receive lower quality care as a result of their weight.[11] Medical professionals who specialize in the treatment of obesity have been found to have strong negative associations toward obese individuals.[12]

In one study, preschool-aged children reported a preference for average-sized children over overweight children as friends.[13] As a consequence of anti-fat bias, overweight individuals often find themselves suffering repercussions in many facets of society, including legal and employment issues later in their life.[5] Overweight individuals also find themselves facing issues caused by increased weight such as decreased lifespan, joint problems, and shortness of breath.[14]

According to a 2010 review of published studies, interventions seeking to reduce prejudice and social stigma against fat and obesity are largely ineffective.[15]