Obesity: Self-stigma may raise risk of metabolic syndrome


A number of studies have shown that individuals who are obese are often stereotyped as “lazy,” “lacking in willpower,” or “unattractive.” New research finds that internalizing such negative perceptions may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome for people who are obese, independent of weight.
Researchers say that internalized weight bias may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome. Study leader Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D. – an assistant professor of psychology at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine – and team recently reported their findings in the journal Obesity.
Whether it is using the comment section of a celebrity news website or a post on Facebook, it seems that many people are willing to express their (often negative) opinions on someone else’s weight.
Research has shown that this practice of “body shaming” is fueled by negative stereotyping of people who are overweight or obese – for example, that they are lazy or are to blame for their weight.
Pearl notes that there is a widespread perception that body shaming can help encourage people who are obese to improve their lifestyle and lose weight. The new study, however, shows that this is not the case – it can actually have serious consequences for health.
Metabolic syndrome risk tripled by self-stigma The research involved 159 adults aged between 21 and 65 who had a body mass index (BMI) of 33 or higher, which is classed as obese. The majority of participants were African-American, a population the researchers say is often underrepresented in weight bias studies.
All participants were a part of a larger weight loss study, in which they completed the Weight Bias Internalization Scale – a measure of the extent to which individuals apply weight stereotypes to themselves.
Subjects also completed the Patient Health Questionnaire, which the team used to determine participants’ criteria for depression and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that increase the likelihood of stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. These risk factors include high blood pressure, a large waist circumference, high fasting blood sugar, and a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

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