Does the Prejudice against Obesity Motivate You to Lose Weight?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  344 comments   :  54,050 Views

It’s no secret that being obese can make you the target of some very negative and stigmatizing attitudes. Many people have been subjected to public ridicule and cruel remarks, lost jobs or promotions, and even been blamed for large-scale social problems like climate change and rising health care costs—all because of their weight.

As reported in this article, even doctors and health policy professionals get in on the act. Ms. Brown reports that, in one study, more than half of the 620 doctors questioned said they viewed obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” Another study shows that higher BMI scores translate into doctors having less respect for patients and spending less time with them during appointments.

With all the evidence that, in most cases, obesity is a complex condition caused by the interaction of many different genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors, you’d think that medical professionals, especially, would be less likely to fall into the trap of viewing obesity as some sort of character flaw and stigmatizing obese patients.

Ms. Brown raises the possibility that many health professionals and policy makers believe that being stigmatized can motivate people to lose weight and improve their health. But, as she notes, the question is whether this approach actually works.

Most of the evidence seems to say “No.” Being on the receiving end of judgmental or stigmatizing attitudes is highly associated with depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems, and many people are motivated to avoid situations where they experience these attitudes. People who feel judged by their doctors may simply avoid going to the doctor, even when they really need to. Others may internalize the negative judgments aimed at them, becoming their own harshest critics and worst enemies. This rarely leads to positive choices and actions.

Dr. Peter A Muenning, a professor of health policy at Columbia University, told Ms. Brown that being stigmatized can actually make people sick: “Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful. Stress puts the body on full alert, which gets the blood pressure up, the sugar up, everything you need to fight or flee the predator.” Over time, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, and other problems—the same conditions often associated with obesity.

Ironically, the social stigma attached to obesity may actually be aggravating the situation and contributing to the negative health consequences of being overweight.

As Ms. Brown describes in her article, even well-intended efforts to combat the “obesity epidemic,” especially childhood obesity, can backfire and produce negative consequences. For example, conducting school-based campaigns to prevent teenage obesity can make overweight students feel stressed for making the same lunch choices as other students, and fail to get thinner students to examine their own eating habits and make healthier choices.

Maybe we need to put less emphasis on obesity as the problem, and more on building and maintaining healthy lifestyles for people of all weights and sizes, as advocated by The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance

What do you think? Have you been on the receiving end of the obesity stigma? Does that help motivate you to make changes, or does it just raise your stress level and cause more problems than it solves? What do you do to overcome the negative feelings associated with being stimatized?

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  • 344
    YES. But, for me, that's far from being the whole picture. - 3/15/2017   9:27:40 PM
  • 343
    Stigma only motivates individuals who value the other person's opinion. Most patients don't value a stranger's opinion, such as a medical professional you only see once in a while who doesn't know or love you as a person, very highly. - 3/15/2017   2:38:46 PM
  • 342
    I think the social stigma of obesity has the opposite effect. Having been on the thinner side my entire life (except while pregnant when I gained up to 54 pounds), I always felt like I was overweight, even when I was 110 pounds or slightly less. My OB/GYN with my first pregnancy actually told me I was underweight and that was a huge thing for me because I didn't feel like I was since society always tells all of us that we are fat, even if we are not. Being quite a bit heavier than I was at 19, I have come to accept my weight as normal (normal BMI and all of that) and yet the media would still say that I am overweight. Thankfully, I have really great medical professionals in my life that never bother with my weight. My neurologist does tell me I need to exercise, but it's because cardio can be as effect as the best preventative medication for migraines rather than for weight loss. A good portion of my family is considered obese and I know they have had trouble at the doctor. My sister's blood pressure literally gets higher at doctor's appointments because she knows they will comment on her weight, which has been heavily impacted by the medication she uses. My mom and step-dad have both been told they need to lose weight, both just because of their size and to help with other medical conditions (high blood pressure and diabetes, respectively). The prejudice against obese people is not going to work. It further alienates them from the "fit" community and discourages them. For years, not being fit discouraged me from ever trying to be fit, and I didn't have more than 15 pounds to lose before gaining muscle was my only concern to achieve that. Instead of focusing on the negative, we should be focusing on the positive. Eating healthy, living actively, and building a supportive and inclusive community for people of all sizes and abilities should be our focus. If that is how our society worked then there would probably be a lot less obese people because there would be more education easily accessible, healthier eating choices for cheaper prices, and a better community with support that could encourage obese people to get healthier, even if that means they do not lose much weight but are still eating healthier and are more active. Different people have different bodies and sometimes those bodies come with conditions that make it difficult to lose weight or require medication that ends up in the person gaining weight. As a society, we should be accepting of that, too. - 3/15/2017   11:27:56 AM
  • 341
    That never motivated me. What finally did was the personal acceptance that I had to make some changes for life to eat more healthy and move more. Knew that those changes would help with weight loss. - 3/15/2017   7:15:08 AM
  • 340
    Believe me, I knew I was fat. I did not need people telling me. All it did was piss me off. I had a fat doctor telling me to lose weight - I laughed in his face and said he could diet with me. He did not appreciate that ha ha. I had to find my motivation within myself. There was no external influence strong enough to make me want to lose weight. Usually it had the opposite effect. - 1/26/2017   5:30:57 AM
  • 339
    No not really but I was just overweight - 11/22/2016   3:31:41 AM
  • 338
    When I was overweight, every time I went to the doctor he would tell me to get on the scale. I was a yoyo dieter for years after having anorexia nervosa in myearly thirties. I got so fed up with mydoctor that I woud leave his office angry and upset but not driven to lose the weight. I fianlly told him no! when I would go to his office and he wanted to weigh me. I told him to step onthe scale since he had gained some weight too. He never asked me again......I think I got my point across to him then. - 8/13/2016   10:13:09 AM
  • 337
    Thank you for this article. I can't count the number of medical professionals who have been rude and dismissive to my overweight family members, and it makes my blood boil. Many people in my family weigh over 300 lbs, my beautiful sister included, who can walk faster than I can on level ground (I trot to keep up). They deserve good medical care just like every other human. Of course my family members would have better prospects if they lost weight, which they would if they could figure out how (and many of them are trying). But unless or until that happens, I say "Healthy and beautiful at every size!" - 8/9/2016   9:49:59 PM
    I was put on psychiatric meds that made me gain 130 lbs in one year. Well later I went to a doctor for my spinal arthritis and he treated me like complete dirt because I was obese. Gee listening to doctors and taking my pills is what made me fat in the first place. I stopped talking the psychiatric meds and the weight has been coming off. When I was on them even eating a 1200 calorie diet a day was not helping. - 2/19/2016   4:17:40 PM
  • SHAHAI16
    This article really struck a chord with me...I've been heavier my whole life but never really "obese", but when I lost some weight people were so much nicer to me (especially men). Couldn't maintain it though, I creeped back up 20 pounds and those same guys were like "wow you let yourself go". Then I got pregnant and the weight would not go away. Everyone basically told me I wasn't trying hard enough, and the military put me through hell trying to get where they thought I should be (doctor perscribed an 800 calorie diet even though I was working out 2 hours daily). I was stressed, depressed, and no one even noticed I was completely withdrawn. I ended up losing everything. Now I live back home and am much heavier but a hell of a lot happier than I was then. I want to lose weight for me now, not for somebody else's idea of what I should be. - 2/15/2016   11:09:36 AM
  • 334
    I don't think this kind of attitude is helpful at all... I think a person who loves and accepts their body is more likely to care enough to make healthy changes than a person who has been told to feel hatred and shame toward their body. - 12/29/2015   5:52:33 PM
  • 333
    I have been on the receiving end of this many times and in many situations and it does not get easier. It has made me depressed and VERY self conscious. I dont think it helps in fact I think it does the opposite. - 11/18/2015   11:37:12 AM
  • 332
    I don't think it helps. I am an emotional eater and if i feel hurt then I turn to food. Many if not most overweight people already deal with self esteem issues. So I don't see how this would help one bit. - 11/11/2015   9:55:30 PM
  • 331
    I agree. I believe one of the best ways to start a healthier lifestyle and lose pounds is a positive attitude. Any put downs, prejudice and negative talk needs to doesn't help! When doctors look at me with a sneer I head out their door and never return. There are other doctors out there. - 9/4/2015   9:32:40 PM
  • 330
    No. If anything, the cruelty and prejudice just piss me off and make me want to punch someone's lights out. And to eat an entire pizza, three burritos, and a gallon of ice cream partially as a "so THERE!" revenge tactic and mostly because I like the food and it makes me happier. However, I've decided moderation would be a good idea, so I don't do that anymore (and I never did hit someone). My motivation is ME. I'm taking care of me. That's it. Screw the haters. I'll set 'em on fire someday. I'll take care of what's important now: ME. - 9/4/2015   11:44:30 AM
    The stigma and crap that comes with it is deflating and unmotivating and blah.
    Especially when it comes to medical professionals. I went to doctors for 10 years complaining of issues I had, just to be brushed off as lazy and being told I should lose weight. Que the 10 year mark, I almost died because of a untreated tumor the idiots could have diagnosed with blood and urine tests, but didn't because they all thought I was lazy and wanted to be put on sick leave. (My surgeon and other follow up doctors all agree that the 10 years of symptoms are very likely due to said tumor) Even when I walked in to the office at one point and said "Hey, I've lost 40 lbs and my symptoms are worse than ever!" they did nothing. It's made me incredibly distrustful of doctors, cause guess what, even though I'm fat I can still actually get sick!

    I'm still working on losing weight. I just try to do it in a way that requires as little interaction with other people as possible. I plan my meals, I work out at home etc. - 8/10/2015   4:42:01 AM
  • 328
    Being fat is unhealthy. As long as you choose to feel "stigamatized" or "traumatized" when someone points this out to you, you're going to stay fat. - 4/20/2015   10:44:37 AM
  • 327
    Thanks for this article I always thought there was something wrong with me because I don't respond to this type of motivation it just made me more anxious. When there's a big problem there is a big cause don't assume I'm lazy or stupid. - 4/3/2015   8:06:17 PM
  • 326
    I am one of those people who stopped going to doctors because of their comments. I hurt myself playing tennis and instead of taking the injury seriously, the response was bascially, "well you're overweight, so just lose some weight". Now after 3 years, I still have problems and have trouble walking but there is nothing that would convince me to visit a doctor again. I live in France where obesity is rare and doctors just don't treat overweight people seriously. - 3/25/2015   11:47:31 AM
  • 325
    I was a fat kid. My parents took me to this doctor, I was like 8. I guess he was our pediatrician. I remember him putting my on a diabetes diet and screaming at me when I didn't lose weight. The irony is, when I look at picture of myself when I was 8, I wasn't really heavy. I honestly believe that the experience of dieting at that age and being judge by the doctor contributed to my fatness later in life.

    There are a couple of take-aways from this. First, if some one treated my kid that way they would find the outcome sub-optimal. I don't consider myself a particularly nice man and I think that the doctor might have found my adult behavior a little less cordial than he was used to.

    I also think that my anger and resentment toward people could have been halted if I hadn't had to deal with other peoples crap when I was a kid. My relationship with food could have been more positive if I didn't always feel like a freak or the fat kid.

    I grew about 2 feet between 12 and 14. I weighed about 220 in 9th grade and would play football at 250. All the idiots who gave me crap wanted to be my friend or were scared of me. I wonder how much more positive my life would have been if I didn't develop all the aggression and anger I still struggle with.

    Sorry about the rambling, I guess I needed to vent. :) - 3/25/2015   11:22:54 AM
  • 324
    My brother was so stigmatized by doctors because he was 500# and 6' 5", that he refused to see a doctor when he had a foot infection. He didn't want to be told he needed to lose weight. He knew he did and constantly was trying. His foot infection turned to gangrene. He end up with both feet so bad that amputation was forecasted by a medical professional. His answer was to commit suicide. - 2/20/2015   1:00:39 AM
  • 323
    I am a medical professional who until very recently was classified as obese. Even I find it hard to avoid the bias against obese patients, even more so because I am accepting of the fact that my own weight issues are entirely controllable. I am VERY supportive of my patients who are working toward improving their health (regardless of their level of success), but far less so of those looking for something or someone to blame. Accountability is key. - 9/30/2014   11:10:04 PM
    Not a motivator. It is the only acceptable form of discrimination left in our society. Not just accepted but encouraged by the establishment. - 6/16/2014   2:27:16 PM
  • 321
    Any negativity causes stress that's why they say don't be a Debbie Downer, if someone is taught to be confident or learns to be negative comments won't bother them but it not like its easy, and the reactions people can have are pretty weird and overwhelming but blacks and gays have it worse.
    - 2/8/2014   6:54:32 PM
  • 320
    No one should be put down because of the weight or any part of their anatomy. That includes comments about people in normal BMI range being called "too skinny" and told to "go eat a cheeseburger." A bully is a bully at any weight or size. - 2/8/2014   3:49:31 PM
  • 319
    I'm pretty lucky to have rarely encountered negativity towards me because of my weight, and when I have, I always thought it said more about the negative person than it did me. For me it's more that I feel invisible when I'm overweight, more overlooked. It's such a subtle thing that it's almost something I can live with, until I remember what it was like when I was thinner and was treated like a real member of society. - 2/8/2014   10:02:00 AM
  • 318
    I've been obese most of my life but I get so tired of people making excuses to keep being obese. This seems like another one. Yes, it's hurtful when others say what you know, that you're obese. It never motivated me to lose weight, I always had my own excuses, some of them were pretty legitimate. But, hurtful comments never sent me running to refrigerator or pantry for something to eat.
    When you realize that YOU are the only one that can do this and that no one can else can stop you, you will succeed. Stop the excuses and start trying. You're not too busy to get some exercise and eat better. You're not too heavy to move and cut down on calories. There are no words, no matter how painful, that can derail you. - 2/8/2014   9:33:19 AM
  • 317
    I have to admit that I put off going to the doctor until I had lost weight... I never really thought about it other than that although I am not in the "obese" category. I have always been only a few pounds overweight and I never thought about it, but it does affect even the borderline overweight "me". - 1/22/2014   8:58:44 PM
    It doesn't help motivate me, it deflates me.. I know I shouldn't let comments and rudeness influence me negatively, but I feel stressed out and gain weight - 12/28/2013   10:25:04 PM
  • 315
    I couldn't score a date when I was overweight. I lost 40 pounds on my one time diet and certainly got treated differently. Luckily my now husband doesn't care how I look. - 12/28/2013   8:41:27 AM
  • 314
    Being obese is a tough row to hoe so yes losing weight would help quiet the comments in today's mean society. But could you classify the comments as a's just bullying. - 11/20/2013   11:48:19 PM
    I've been heavy my whole life. Weight has been a constant struggle for me for 40 years. I do avoid going to doctors because I don't think they will take me seriously due to my weight. I always say I will go to the doctor for an injury or physical ailment after I've lost weight and I suffer pain and discomfort while I'm waiting to go. - 11/20/2013   10:35:08 PM
  • 312
    NO! It has the opposite affect. I ballooned up to 372 pounds because of all the years of negative comments, looks, etc. I do take responsibility for my own eating habits, but I remember even when I was exercising overweight, people would look or make comments, so its a no win situation. Now that I am closer to a, "regular" weight, I definitely notice the difference in treatment, but I have NO respect for those people who treated me badly when I was morbidly obese. I look so different most of them don't even remember the, "old" me but I definitely remember and while I am polite to those individuals, they could NEVER be considered a friend. - 11/20/2013   9:35:05 PM
    I have been on the receiving end and it is horrible. I do not think that I am obese and yes I am "big boned". Criticizing does not help motivate me to do better, instead I want to hide from the world. I am a curvy full figured woman and despite many diets, workouts and even one attempt at surgery I am still a healthy size 16/18. I want to lose weight not because of others harsh statement but because sometimes I don't like what see in the mirror and when I go shopping. Shopping the plus size can sometimes seems be depressing. - 11/20/2013   2:50:25 PM
  • 310
    I have been on the receiving end of this treatment from a dr. Quite recently I had to get a new dr. Because I moved, and I have bipolar and insomnia. I have had this for many years now, so when I went to my "new" dr. He tried to take me off of all my medication, and when I asked him what I should do about my moods and sleeping, he simply replied " i can refer you to a dietitian" . That was the most rude a dr. Can get! So I simply changed dr's, and I don't take it personally when socially uneducated people make outrageous comments. By the way I am about 100lbs overweight, and I am working really hard to change it around, thanks to the support of the spark people! - 11/20/2013   1:32:20 PM
  • 309
    I definitely try to manage my weight because of my own prejudices. However, I find the observation that doctors dismiss overweight patients as being true only half the time. My sister is obese, and I tell you, if she so much as looks sideways, her doctors are falling over themselves to treat and medicate her. Meanwhile, I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a doctor who takes my issues seriously. Have I had a doctor make snide comments about my weight? Yep. Did their attitude change towards me after I lost twenty pounds? Yep. But I have never in my life received as much devoted and adoring medical attention as my sister. - 11/20/2013   12:45:38 PM
    The campaigns targeting kids are the most offensive. By ingraining these unhealthy attitudes and perceptions we're setting kids up for a life time of misery. Why not promote healthy lifestyles instead of anti obesity campaigns? Nutrition over calories? Something everyone could use a brush up on! - 11/20/2013   6:02:09 AM
  • 307
    It might not be how the majority reacts, but I personally never really cared about negative comments even when I was over 300 lbs. What makes me feel more uncomfortable is people trying to be "politically correct" or even worse, preachy. It makes for an awkward conversation. At least when someone says something negative to me I shrug and say "thanks for stating the obvious!" we laugh it off and we move on to discussing more interesting things. When someone keeps trying to drop hints here and there, or tell me about this new tea their sister in law tried to lose weight the elephant in the room is there to stay and makes any other topic awkward.

    If someone is plain mean (not just honest), they're just attention seekers trying to feel better about themselves. I just ignore those, not worth my time.

    As for the question, no. It did not motivate me (or demotivate me for that matter), it was more of a health concern.

    - 8/23/2013   5:14:42 AM
  • 306
    Now that I've taken more time to actually read this article, I can add: Several years ago I WAS on the receiving end of the obesity stigma. It only made me feel so bad about myself, that I became depressed and withdrawn; only to gain even more weight! I finally came to realize that you cannot change other people's attitudes. I moved on, ignored the negativity (when possible), and finally lost the weight! - 8/3/2013   12:09:28 PM
  • 305
    As one previous post says, prejudice means hatred. This would in no way motivate me to do anything. A positive and caring attitude towards someone would (at least for me) work best. - 8/3/2013   11:51:20 AM
  • 304
    Prejudice against people who are overweight is a form of hatred and emotional abuse that is, unfortunately, too easy to internalize. In other words, this hatred is something that can, unfortunately, make overweight people, such as me, hate themselves. When I hate myself, I act in ways that are not healthy. On the other hand, when people can see and love me for the wonderful person that I am, it is much easier to act accordingly--to love myself and to eat in healthy ways. Therefore, it is best for me to stay away from hateful and bigoted people whenever possible for my own health. Anyone, who thinks their biting remarks should motivate others to lose weight, are not only ignorant and cruel, but are kidding themselves. Of course, what goes around comes around, and they will learn about their cruelty sooner or later... - 7/9/2013   6:08:22 PM
  • 303
    People who are overweight and yes I am 50 lbs overweight right now need to get a bit thicker skin. I know I'm overweight and yes I did it to myself. Sometimes people say things but they are right I'm fat right now so I have to deal with it. - 5/27/2013   1:04:34 AM
  • 302
    How irritating to read! My sister was just sharing her specialist keeps making personal, not so much MEDICAL comments about her appearance and wants her to consider gastric bypass. She is NOT 100lb overweight (which at least used to be one of the criteria).

    I told her to get a different specialist. Yes, she could work on body composition but 50lb overweight to get bypass surgery? That along with his odd personal comments (again about how disgusting her face is, etc., not medical) then this article? Sad. - 4/29/2013   9:49:18 AM
  • 301
    I love all the helpers I have that tell me I need to loose weight, and/or have suggestions of what I should do. It is almost always painful because I already know what to do. I have just not done it for long enough (lifetime) to get it done.
    I don't know the answer, but am finding what may work for a lifetime for people here at sparks. Almost as good as the 12 steps! Maybe better for weight control for me. - 4/28/2013   4:13:07 AM
  • MOE718
    I think that everyone is beautiful in a unique way no matter what size they are. After
    all everyone is not destined to be a size 2! And I'm sick and tired of all the emphasis on weight & size acceptance for a certain group of people for their liking! - 4/27/2013   8:12:02 AM
    Being healthier and making healthy choices is a lifetime commitment that is easier for some than others. I don't think negative reinforcement works to motivate someone who may already have a low self esteem about their weight and outer appearance but may defeat them before they even attempt to live better and do better. Every one is different and have faults that we struggle with every day. We all need support and people that are supportive in our life to help motivate us to be better.

    I know what worked for me was to help motivate myself by helping others because honestly we give the best advice when it's directed towards another persons problems. Get up, get active, and get motivated is easier said then done but that's what makes it rewarding when you accomplish your goals and look back at the person that you use to be.

    Here's a website that I use for my vitamins, supplements, and I use the wraps to jump start my weight loss/skin tightening for the extra boost of confidence I needed in order to see change and want to really go after it. It's all natural products and the Fat Fighters is awesome for those of us that struggle with carbs and fatty foods.
    /Shop - 4/21/2013   6:44:49 AM
  • 298
    I've been on the receiving end of various negative remarks and for me they don't work. In reading the original post I remembered how horrible it was to be the fat girl in jr. high, an age when very few of us know how to 'armor' ourselves. I couldn't eat in public, no matter if it was a carrot or brownie, I was bullied. Ultimately I spent most of my school years skipping breakfast and hiding in classrooms at lunch time, starving because being seen eating was an open invite for classmates to attack. Today I still struggle with an innate distrust of skinny people. - 4/17/2013   10:17:11 PM
  • 297
    I've always been prejudiced against fat-on self! Heavy friends weren't fat in my mind until they were jerks in other ways, although I never mentioned them being 'fat'. And this study is interesting, with many truths. But just for grins, I'd love to see how many doctors are obese or at least 'overweight'! - 4/16/2013   1:43:59 AM
  • 296
    I was just baffled to see an article by "Coach Dean", since he hasn't been around for years. This article is dated March 3, 2013, but the comments go back to 2010 (and beyond, I assume, since I'm not going to go thru almost 300 comments.) I find this misleading on SP's behalf to post something "old" as something new. - 4/4/2013   11:47:13 PM
    I definitely agree that school wide programs/societal focus on obesity only make those who are obese more self-conscience and in many ways are declarations of "open season on fatties". If obesity is a societal problem, shouldn't we focus on the systemic issues - building "fit" neighbourhoods that encourage walking, supporting families, stronger legislation for ingredient content/limitations and marketing?
    If "just saying no" is not an effective counter for teenage pregnancy, why would it work when combatting obesity? - 4/2/2013   2:45:00 PM

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