Obesity is a chronic and serious medical condition and according to many physicians, obesity is not a choice – it is a disease. We don’t discriminate against people with cancer, arthritis or other health disorders, and we certainly don’t discriminate against people based on their sex, race or handicap and yet society continues to openly discriminate against the obese. Obese people are prejudiced as being lazy, which makes it harder for them to find a job and get promoted, they are charged more for their clothing and some airlines even require the obese to purchase two airline tickets.
The Obesity Stigma
Women have a higher risk of obesity than men do, which is likely due to the fact that they have a naturally lower muscle mass and metabolic rate, which makes weight loss harder to obtain. Despite this fact, the pressure to lose weight is greater for obese woman than it is for men; they are subjected to more social stigma, and they are deprived of intimate relationships, friendships, social interactions, education, income and respect. “Obese and female is as bad as it gets,” states nutritional and medical research advisor to the Danish government Berit Heitmann. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way for obese women to transcend the anti-fat prejudice because a new study has found that society continues to discriminate against formerly obese women even after they achieve substantial weight loss.
Females and the Weight Loss Battle
The study was conducted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, The University of Manchester, and Monash University and it was published in the May 29th edition of the journal Obesity. The researchers of the study asked men and women to read descriptions of women who had either maintained a stable weight or had obtained 70 pounds of weight loss, and who were either presently obese or presently thin. After reading the vignettes, the participants were asked questions about the women’s perceived attractiveness as well as other perceived attributes and they were also questioned on their overall dislike for fat people.
“We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history,” said study leader Janet Latner, in a news release from the University of Manchester, England. “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.”
Obesity Stigma – Making Weight Loss More Difficult
Another disturbing finding of the study was that the participants demonstrated an even greater prejudice towards obese people after they were falsely told that weight loss is easily attainable. “Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma. Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more,” said Dr.Latner.
According to Doctor Scott Kahan, of John Hopkins University, science has revealed that a person’s risk of obesity is largely based upon genetics, physiology, environmental factors and upbringing yet “…people continue to dismiss obesity as a willful misconduct, and label people who have obesity as lazy and weak.” “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,” concludes study co-author Kerry O’Brien.