Fat-shaming — the process of insulting, ostracizing, or otherwise stigmatizing people who appear overweight — actually does far more harm than good, according to new research. In fact, overweight people who face weight discrimination are likely to eat more, exercise less, and have a higher chance of ending up obese.
Researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine conducted an experiment where they tracked a nationally representative population of Americans between 2006 and 2010. The findings were striking. Americans who were overweight in 2006 — but not obese — and stigmatized for it were two and half times more likely to end up obese four years later than those who hadn’t been fat-shamed. Furthermore, those who were obese at the beginning of the study were three times more likely to still be obese in 2010 if they faced weight discrimination.
“There is robust evidence that internalizing weight-based stereotypes, teasing and stigmatizing experiences are associated with more frequent binge eating,” wrote the researchers. They also believe the stress caused by overweight Americans’ public and personal humiliation elevates hormones that promote weight-gain — a trend that has been witnessed in other demographics with high stress levels, too.
Fat-shaming is an abundantly popular tool that is ostensibly used to fight America’s obesity epidemic. But as the new report confirms, it is often counterproductive. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that having parents talk to their children about healthy nutrition habits is much more effective in curbing childhood obesity than talking to them about weight. The latter tends to give kids body image issues and can lead to unhealthy dieting or even an eating disorder, according to the research.
Efforts to promote public health can sometimes devolve into fat-shaming campaigns, such as this San Francisco anti-obesity campaign in which a little girl is Photoshopped to look chubby. The Boy Scouts of America requires scouts with a BMI between 32 and 39 to jump through hoops bureaucratic hoops to participate in its popular summer Jamboree program. Scouts with a BMI over 40 are barred from attendance entirely.