Last month, ScienceOmega.com
reported that obesity can adversely affect the prospects of female job applicants
. An international study has now discovered that anti-fat prejudice persists even after women are no longer obese. Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa), the University of Manchester and Monash University, found that people tended to view thin women less favourably if they were told that they had lost a significant amount of weight.
The team, whose findings were published in the journal Obesity
surveyed young men and women in order to detect weight-related prejudices. Participants were asked to read a passage of information concerning a woman. All of the women were either currently thin or currently obese, but some were described as being weight-stable whereas others were said to have lost 70lbs (32kg). The respondents were then asked to give their opinions regarding the attractiveness of the woman in question, and their general feelings towards ‘fat’ people.
Respondents who had just read about women who had lost weight tended to feel more negatively about obese people than those who had been reading about weight-stable individuals. This was the case regardless of whether those weight-stable individuals were thin or obese. The researchers also discovered that participants’ negative attitudes towards obese people increased when they were told that body weight is easily controllable.
"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," said UH Manoa’s Dr Janet Latner who led the study. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."
"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 really big players in one’s weight status and weight-loss," explained Dr Kerry O’Brien, co-author of the study from the Universities of Manchester and Monash. "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.
The findings seem to suggest that negative sentiment concerning a person’s weight status can persist even when that person is no longer overweight. The researchers contend that the stigma of obesity is so strong that it can remain long after the excess weight has been lost.
"Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma," added Dr O’Brien. "Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more.
"The findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it may even outlast the obesity itself. 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," Dr O’Brien concluded.