Weight Bias and the Impact on Individuals
by: Alyssa Lynott RDN, LD
Weight discrimination affects as many as 40% of the United States population and is one of the most common types of discrimination in our country today. Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., states that “as obesity rates have risen over the past few decades, so have rates of weight-based discrimination.” Weight bias or weight discrimination is any negative attitude towards an individual based on their weight status whether in the act of bullying or unfair treatment. The act of weight bias was once thought to encourage behavior changes, for example, using the term ‘fat’ was thought to encourage the individual to lose weight. However, as more research is completed, it has been found how weight bias can negatively affect an individuals’ health.
Where and how does weight bias occur?
Weight bias occurs in our society today where those with obesity or extra weight are looked at differently. Though research has recently revealed that obesity can be brought on by many different factors including genetics, biological factors, and environment; society tends to blame the individual’s lifestyle, disregarding any consideration of the biological or genetic factors at play.
What are the impacts on health?
Weight bias has a large effect on an individual’s mental health, especially when they accept these weight-based stereotypes to be true about themselves. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are common among individuals who have experienced weight bias. Some research has also shown evidence of increased disease and mortality risk with those who experience weight-based discrimination. Pearl states, “Obesity and weight-related health outcomes are complex… stigma is one factor that impacts obesity-related health problems.”
What can we do?
The first step in correcting a bias is recognizing your own. A test created at Harvard University titled Project Implicit (follow the link below and select the tab Weight IAT) can help an individual recognize their own personal bias. We all need to mindful of our bias and treat every individual with respect regardless of the size of their body. A powerful movement that focuses on just this is called, Health at Every Size. This movement focuses on celebrating body diversity and honors the differences between all humans. Every individual can change the way they view weight in our society, after all, it is just a number. Let us all take one step forward in living in a world free from weight bias!