Does the Prejudice against Obesity Motivate You to Lose Weight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It’s no secret that being obese can make you the target of some very negative and stigmatizing attitudes. Many people have been subjected to public ridicule and cruel remarks, lost jobs or promotions, and even been blamed for large-scale social problems like climate change and rising health care costs—all because of their weight.

As reported in this article, even doctors and health policy professionals get in on the act. Ms. Brown reports that, in one study, more than half of the 620 doctors questioned said they viewed obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” Another study shows that higher BMI scores translate into doctors having less respect for patients and spending less time with them during appointments.

With all the evidence that, in most cases, obesity is a complex condition caused by the interaction of many different genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors, you’d think that medical professionals, especially, would be less likely to fall into the trap of viewing obesity as some sort of character flaw and stigmatizing obese patients.

Ms. Brown raises the possibility that many health professionals and policy makers believe that being stigmatized can motivate people to lose weight and improve their health. But, as she notes, the question is whether this approach actually works.

Most of the evidence seems to say “No.” Being on the receiving end of judgmental or stigmatizing attitudes is highly associated with depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems, and many people are motivated to avoid situations where they experience these attitudes. People who feel judged by their doctors may simply avoid going to the doctor, even when they really need to. Others may internalize the negative judgments aimed at them, becoming their own harshest critics and worst enemies. This rarely leads to positive choices and actions.

Dr. Peter A Muenning, a professor of health policy at Columbia University, told Ms. Brown that being stigmatized can actually make people sick: “Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful. Stress puts the body on full alert, which gets the blood pressure up, the sugar up, everything you need to fight or flee the predator.” Over time, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, and other problems—the same conditions often associated with obesity.

Ironically, the social stigma attached to obesity may actually be aggravating the situation and contributing to the negative health consequences of being overweight.

As Ms. Brown describes in her article, even well-intended efforts to combat the “obesity epidemic,” especially childhood obesity, can backfire and produce negative consequences. For example, conducting school-based campaigns to prevent teenage obesity can make overweight students feel stressed for making the same lunch choices as other students, and fail to get thinner students to examine their own eating habits and make healthier choices.

Maybe we need to put less emphasis on obesity as the problem, and more on building and maintaining healthy lifestyles for people of all weights and sizes, as advocated by The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance

What do you think? Have you been on the receiving end of the obesity stigma? Does that help motivate you to make changes, or does it just raise your stress level and cause more problems than it solves? What do you do to overcome the negative feelings associated with being stimatized?

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Comments

FUNNYFACE101002 5/22/2019
I too have been on the receiving end of mean people when I was extremely obese. Now I’m obese and everyone thinks I look great. Truth is when people are condemning you for being over weight you just want to eat more. Report
DRAGONFLY631 5/17/2019
I am on a mission to get healthy but I know other people looked poorly on me because of my weight. Report
G33K10V3 4/26/2019
This was not my motivation when I began my journey to become a healthier and happier me but it's worth sharing. Honestly, this devastated and humiliated me more than anything I can remember for a long time.
My husband was estranged from his father for the first thirty years of his life and has recently begun to build a relationship with him.
After meeting me a couple of times he told my husband not to bring me around anymore because he is a "fattist".
If he doesn't like me now, he would have really had disdain for me seven years ago when I was around 400 lbs :(
Now I'm at 220 and thought I was doing great. That one comment blew it all up for me for a while and I'm still very hurt about it but it IS terrific motivation to continue losing.
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KCCAT5 3/10/2019
It was because of all the prejudice against obese people that the body positive movement was started. The ironic thing now is that the body positive movement has been overtaken by Pro obesity. As somebody who used to promote body positivity and I still do to a certain degree I've walked away from the movement because I don't like pushing obesity. I know from personal experience what it did to my body. Report
GETULLY 3/6/2019
I find it ironic that doctors will tell people they have to lose weight but offer no assistance or direction for that to happen. Report
KHALIA2 2/20/2019
Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 2/20/2019
Thanks! Report
MNABOY 1/19/2019
Thanks Report
MAWMAWJ2 12/21/2018
I found the comparison between smoking and obesity very insightful. It got me to thinking about my own doctor and how he approaches both issues. When I first began seeing him I was a slightly overweight smoker. Over the coarse of seven years I became an obese smoker, topping the scales at 235 pounds. During that time, at every visit in fact, my doctor asked me how I was doing with my smoking. Was I ready to quit. But he never addressed my weight, even as my health issues began accumulating. I wish he would have. I was acutely aware that I was obese and it affected every aspect of my life. I was a physical mess with my out of control blood pressure, kidney problems, and high cholesterol, not to mention that I could barely walk due to the pain in my feet, knees and lower back. Mentally, I was so ashamed of my appearance that I stopped even trying to look nice and I used every excuse I could conjure up for never leaving the house. To me, I became 'that' fat lady at the buffet, so I stopped going out to eat with my husband, refused to get out and even try to walk because I felt the judgement (which was most likely non-existent, but never-the-less) of anyone who passed me. It didn't matter though, as I couldn't walk more than 100 steps without excruciating pain in my feet and lower back. My obesity was my prison. I knew it, but it overwhelmed me so that I honestly thought this was going to be me for the rest of my life. I finally reached the point where I realized that if I wanted things to change, I had to be the one to change it. During my next doctor's visit; after he asked me how I was doing with my smoking, I approached HIM about my weight. I explained to him that I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I needed his advice as to how to begin. Amazingly, he had some very good ideas. We set goals...very easy goals to begin with. Start out 10 minutes a day, five days a week on an elliptical (easy on the knees and feet) and make gradual, healthier changes to your diet. Come back in three months and let's see if you can lose 10 pounds. Five months and 40 pounds later, my blood pressure is normal, cholesterol...well, we're still working on that...kidneys are in good shape, nothing hurts...nothing!...and I'm walking 4+ miles a day. This all brings me back to my main focus however. As much as I love my doctor and appreciate his knowledge and encouragement throughout my weight loss journey to date, I wonder why he never mentioned that my steadily increasing weight might have something to do with my steadily increasing health issues. I wouldn't have been offended. I would have appreciated it way before I began hurting all the time. I might ask him about that at my next visit...after he asks me how I'm doing on this smoking thing. Report
REJ7777 11/18/2018
It may be unfair but obese people definitely have less credibility than normal weight people. It's a complicated issue! Report
GRANDMASUSAN13 7/7/2018
after blood tests came back somewhat abnormal my doctor said, “I can officially tell you that you need to lose weight now.” I was neither hurt or offended. I took her to heart and have lost 43 lbs. Too bad I had to wait for that comment to realize my health was at risk. I knew it was time long before that statement but just wasn’t ready to see the reality of the hazards. Report
Actually it makes me VERY ANGRY. Passionately angry! I was disrespected by doctors and people my whole life for being overweight. Finally at 460 pounds, everyone thought my only solution was weight loss surgery. Nobody would look into WHY I was overweight or WHY I couldn’t move. I changed hospital affiliations and found a doctor who did diagnostics and found my herniated disks, pinched nerve bundles, bad knees, degenerative disease, fibromyalgia and more. She got me physical therapy and a walker and treated me like a human. No weight loss surgery and SparkPeople flash forward and I’ve lost 220 pounds. I’m treated better now, but I feel sad and am an advocate for those who are not. Report
Very interesting article, I wished people would of told me when I was getting over-weight Report
A time came when I had to see a neurosurgeon for a surgery that would get me out of my wheelchair and I would be walking again and when he saw me he told me that he refused to touch me and the bottom line was that I was too fat and that I would not survive the surgery. When I told him that I wanted to explain a bit about myself and my journey he still told me that I was too fat and when my friend stepped in to give her two cents, he screamed at me that I was too fat and too old.

Well, guess what?! I am not too fat nor too old and this gentleman would not take the time to listen to me or hear me as he has his mind made up before I even showed up. Now, at the Mayo Clinic, they told me that I have great muscle tone, and they found a way that they would like to try before resorting to surgery and I am all game for that!

As for the adage of the childhood "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." is a LIE!!! Words, hurt and break you down quicker than sticks and stones will. Once something is said, you CANNOT take it back!!!!

Blessings!

- Nancy Jean -
GA Report
I admit, I'm a doctor avoider. Report
It's NOT prejudice, for heaven's sake! Obesity is a serious health epidemic, one tied to a multitude of debilitating issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, to name a few.

Let's substitute "smoking" for "obesity" for a moment. For the past several decades, a concerted effort on the part of health experts, coupled with very effective media campaigns vilifying smoking, has resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of individuals who currently smoke. NO ONE in his right mind would make a case that there was "prejudice" against smokers, or advocate for "Smoking acceptance!" Yet, in fact, there are a lot of health care practitioners who won't even broach the subject of weight with their patients for fear of offending them. (I come from a family of doctors, so I do know what it's like.)

Obesity probably is the biggest current health issue, and like smoking, it DOES affect other people too. Moreover, it is something we are ALL capable of improving -- but only if we stop making excuses for poor choices and quit being so sensitive all the time.

There will always be mean, nasty individuals who delight in hurling rude epithets at other people. Usually, those individuals are very insecure themselves. The best armor against them? That little playground adage from our childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!" Report
Thanks for sharing Report
It definitely didn't help me. I had a friend who I worked out with and it was great at first we motivated each other to get to the gym. Then she was getting desperate to lose that last 10 lbs before her wedding so she stopped working out and started puking instead. She got pregnant on her honeymoon and refused to come work out anymore. I lost my motivation and stopped going. She had the audacity to turn to me one day and essentially say "I don't know if you realize it but you're fat." I was just like... seriously?! Just because I refuse to do the puking thing. A few months later we went clothes shopping and she said she was concerned because we wore the same size pants but it was okay for her to wear them because she was pregnant but I was just fat. Mind you at this point she was still heavily obese just not gaining much because she was still puking. Which her obgyn was very distressed about.
She made hurtful comments like these a lot of the time and her weight yoyo'd all the time because she would never stick with trying to lose the healthy way.
I finally decided I didn't need her in my life anymore and just stopped hanging out. I'm so much less stressed now and I'm actually hitting the gym and losing weight. Report
My doctor did just that. I lost about 16 pounds and was having a digestive issue. His response was "Are you sure it's just not something you ate?" I was devastated and cried in my car after I left. He made no mention of the weight I lost and chose instead to belittle me. Time for a new doctor. Report
*Sigh* No, the negative comments do not help. Do we need to accept that obesity is more complex than the "calories in/calories out?" Yes. Do we need to not tie self-worth to a scale number? Yes. Do we need to emphasize healthy lifestyle and not quack fad diets? Yes.

Do we put our head in the sand and pretend that weight has no effect on our health and quality of life? HELL NO!

My experience with the Fat Acceptance movement (particularly my sister, who is an evangelical convert) has been overwhelmingly negative. They seem more interested in trying to scold me for exercising and watching what I eat as though they have a vested interest in making sure I stay fat. (and they probably do, since everyone who gives up and accepts their ideas is a success). They tell me that wanting to lose weight is "internalized misogyny" and "accepting patriarchal oppression." No, it's not about a dress size or male attention. (For $#$%# sake, I married a cook.) It's because I have a laundry list of health issues running in my family and REALLY want to hold those off as long as possible. Yes, I'm working with my doctor on this. No, I'm not being pressured into this by a "fatphobic medical-pharmaceutical complex." Yes, I'm sore from last night's workout. No, I'm not interested in a lecture about how I'm "punishing myself for being fat and female" because I can lift double what I could six months ago.

For crying out loud, either help or get out of my way! Report
GREYTDOLPHIN
I was at my dentist's office, whom I considered a friend, when she told me that she was worried about my health. She scared me, said that I was getting congestive heart failure. But then she kept drilling me about how many calories a day, how many minutes exercise. When I said that I sometimes did water aerobics, she asked me if I felt funny wearing a swimming suit---the "you know, feel funny about the way you look". That was almost 2 weeks ago and I still feel resentful. She's been a wonderful dentist, but she was very hurtfull. She mentioned just skipping meals, going to one of those chains advertising their special meals, etc. I didn't say anything, but it has affected our relationship. I dread going for my next appointment the end of September. Report
My cardiologist wants me to get the gastric sleeve but I don't want to because I have trouble with keeping food in my system long enough to digest. Sometimes it only takes 4 hours and is in the toilet and it is not digested at all. The gastric doctor just poo pooed it and that is another reason that I will not get it done. If they don't take it serious about my concerns then why should I take them serious about it being safe for me. Report
It didn't motivate me What did motivate me was the fear of dying. Report
No, it never motivated me. But it is nice to see mainstream designers starting to make workout clothes in plus sizes. I've always said "fat people like to workout too!" Report
While living on the west coast, unkind remarks about my weight were common. They were hurtful & not motivating at all. When I moved to the mid west where the population is not as thin, no one sees me as obese. That acceptance has made changing my lifestyle so much easier. Report
YES. But, for me, that's far from being the whole picture. Report
Stigma only motivates individuals who value the other person's opinion. Most patients don't value a stranger's opinion, such as a medical professional you only see once in a while who doesn't know or love you as a person, very highly. Report
I think the social stigma of obesity has the opposite effect. Having been on the thinner side my entire life (except while pregnant when I gained up to 54 pounds), I always felt like I was overweight, even when I was 110 pounds or slightly less. My OB/GYN with my first pregnancy actually told me I was underweight and that was a huge thing for me because I didn't feel like I was since society always tells all of us that we are fat, even if we are not. Being quite a bit heavier than I was at 19, I have come to accept my weight as normal (normal BMI and all of that) and yet the media would still say that I am overweight. Thankfully, I have really great medical professionals in my life that never bother with my weight. My neurologist does tell me I need to exercise, but it's because cardio can be as effect as the best preventative medication for migraines rather than for weight loss. A good portion of my family is considered obese and I know they have had trouble at the doctor. My sister's blood pressure literally gets higher at doctor's appointments because she knows they will comment on her weight, which has been heavily impacted by the medication she uses. My mom and step-dad have both been told they need to lose weight, both just because of their size and to help with other medical conditions (high blood pressure and diabetes, respectively). The prejudice against obese people is not going to work. It further alienates them from the "fit" community and discourages them. For years, not being fit discouraged me from ever trying to be fit, and I didn't have more than 15 pounds to lose before gaining muscle was my only concern to achieve that. Instead of focusing on the negative, we should be focusing on the positive. Eating healthy, living actively, and building a supportive and inclusive community for people of all sizes and abilities should be our focus. If that is how our society worked then there would probably be a lot less obese people because there would be more education easily accessible, healthier eating choices for cheaper prices, and a better community with support that could encourage obese people to get healthier, even if that means they do not lose much weight but are still eating healthier and are more active. Different people have different bodies and sometimes those bodies come with conditions that make it difficult to lose weight or require medication that ends up in the person gaining weight. As a society, we should be accepting of that, too. Report
That never motivated me. What finally did was the personal acceptance that I had to make some changes for life to eat more healthy and move more. Knew that those changes would help with weight loss. Report
Believe me, I knew I was fat. I did not need people telling me. All it did was piss me off. I had a fat doctor telling me to lose weight - I laughed in his face and said he could diet with me. He did not appreciate that ha ha. I had to find my motivation within myself. There was no external influence strong enough to make me want to lose weight. Usually it had the opposite effect. Report
No not really but I was just overweight Report
When I was overweight, every time I went to the doctor he would tell me to get on the scale. I was a yoyo dieter for years after having anorexia nervosa in myearly thirties. I got so fed up with mydoctor that I woud leave his office angry and upset but not driven to lose the weight. I fianlly told him no! when I would go to his office and he wanted to weigh me. I told him to step onthe scale since he had gained some weight too. He never asked me again......I think I got my point across to him then. Report
Thank you for this article. I can't count the number of medical professionals who have been rude and dismissive to my overweight family members, and it makes my blood boil. Many people in my family weigh over 300 lbs, my beautiful sister included, who can walk faster than I can on level ground (I trot to keep up). They deserve good medical care just like every other human. Of course my family members would have better prospects if they lost weight, which they would if they could figure out how (and many of them are trying). But unless or until that happens, I say "Healthy and beautiful at every size!" Report
FIGUEROA33
I was put on psychiatric meds that made me gain 130 lbs in one year. Well later I went to a doctor for my spinal arthritis and he treated me like complete dirt because I was obese. Gee listening to doctors and taking my pills is what made me fat in the first place. I stopped talking the psychiatric meds and the weight has been coming off. When I was on them even eating a 1200 calorie diet a day was not helping. Report
SHAHAI16
This article really struck a chord with me...I've been heavier my whole life but never really "obese", but when I lost some weight people were so much nicer to me (especially men). Couldn't maintain it though, I creeped back up 20 pounds and those same guys were like "wow you let yourself go". Then I got pregnant and the weight would not go away. Everyone basically told me I wasn't trying hard enough, and the military put me through hell trying to get where they thought I should be (doctor perscribed an 800 calorie diet even though I was working out 2 hours daily). I was stressed, depressed, and no one even noticed I was completely withdrawn. I ended up losing everything. Now I live back home and am much heavier but a hell of a lot happier than I was then. I want to lose weight for me now, not for somebody else's idea of what I should be. Report
I don't think this kind of attitude is helpful at all... I think a person who loves and accepts their body is more likely to care enough to make healthy changes than a person who has been told to feel hatred and shame toward their body. Report
I have been on the receiving end of this many times and in many situations and it does not get easier. It has made me depressed and VERY self conscious. I dont think it helps in fact I think it does the opposite. Report
I don't think it helps. I am an emotional eater and if i feel hurt then I turn to food. Many if not most overweight people already deal with self esteem issues. So I don't see how this would help one bit. Report
I agree. I believe one of the best ways to start a healthier lifestyle and lose pounds is a positive attitude. Any put downs, prejudice and negative talk needs to doesn't help! When doctors look at me with a sneer I head out their door and never return. There are other doctors out there. Report
No. If anything, the cruelty and prejudice just piss me off and make me want to punch someone's lights out. And to eat an entire pizza, three burritos, and a gallon of ice cream partially as a "so THERE!" revenge tactic and mostly because I like the food and it makes me happier. However, I've decided moderation would be a good idea, so I don't do that anymore (and I never did hit someone). My motivation is ME. I'm taking care of me. That's it. Screw the haters. I'll set 'em on fire someday. I'll take care of what's important now: ME. Report
MARIES_MOMMY
The stigma and crap that comes with it is deflating and unmotivating and blah.
Especially when it comes to medical professionals. I went to doctors for 10 years complaining of issues I had, just to be brushed off as lazy and being told I should lose weight. Que the 10 year mark, I almost died because of a untreated tumor the idiots could have diagnosed with blood and urine tests, but didn't because they all thought I was lazy and wanted to be put on sick leave. (My surgeon and other follow up doctors all agree that the 10 years of symptoms are very likely due to said tumor) Even when I walked in to the office at one point and said "Hey, I've lost 40 lbs and my symptoms are worse than ever!" they did nothing. It's made me incredibly distrustful of doctors, cause guess what, even though I'm fat I can still actually get sick!

I'm still working on losing weight. I just try to do it in a way that requires as little interaction with other people as possible. I plan my meals, I work out at home etc. Report
Being fat is unhealthy. As long as you choose to feel "stigamatized" or "traumatized" when someone points this out to you, you're going to stay fat. Report
Thanks for this article I always thought there was something wrong with me because I don't respond to this type of motivation it just made me more anxious. When there's a big problem there is a big cause don't assume I'm lazy or stupid. Report
I am one of those people who stopped going to doctors because of their comments. I hurt myself playing tennis and instead of taking the injury seriously, the response was bascially, "well you're overweight, so just lose some weight". Now after 3 years, I still have problems and have trouble walking but there is nothing that would convince me to visit a doctor again. I live in France where obesity is rare and doctors just don't treat overweight people seriously. Report
I was a fat kid. My parents took me to this doctor, I was like 8. I guess he was our pediatrician. I remember him putting my on a diabetes diet and screaming at me when I didn't lose weight. The irony is, when I look at picture of myself when I was 8, I wasn't really heavy. I honestly believe that the experience of dieting at that age and being judge by the doctor contributed to my fatness later in life.

There are a couple of take-aways from this. First, if some one treated my kid that way they would find the outcome sub-optimal. I don't consider myself a particularly nice man and I think that the doctor might have found my adult behavior a little less cordial than he was used to.

I also think that my anger and resentment toward people could have been halted if I hadn't had to deal with other peoples crap when I was a kid. My relationship with food could have been more positive if I didn't always feel like a freak or the fat kid.

I grew about 2 feet between 12 and 14. I weighed about 220 in 9th grade and would play football at 250. All the idiots who gave me crap wanted to be my friend or were scared of me. I wonder how much more positive my life would have been if I didn't develop all the aggression and anger I still struggle with.

Sorry about the rambling, I guess I needed to vent. :) Report
My brother was so stigmatized by doctors because he was 500# and 6' 5", that he refused to see a doctor when he had a foot infection. He didn't want to be told he needed to lose weight. He knew he did and constantly was trying. His foot infection turned to gangrene. He end up with both feet so bad that amputation was forecasted by a medical professional. His answer was to commit suicide. Report
I am a medical professional who until very recently was classified as obese. Even I find it hard to avoid the bias against obese patients, even more so because I am accepting of the fact that my own weight issues are entirely controllable. I am VERY supportive of my patients who are working toward improving their health (regardless of their level of success), but far less so of those looking for something or someone to blame. Accountability is key. Report
RAYSGIRL65
Not a motivator. It is the only acceptable form of discrimination left in our society. Not just accepted but encouraged by the establishment. Report
Any negativity causes stress that's why they say don't be a Debbie Downer, if someone is taught to be confident or learns to be negative comments won't bother them but it not like its easy, and the reactions people can have are pretty weird and overwhelming but blacks and gays have it worse.
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No one should be put down because of the weight or any part of their anatomy. That includes comments about people in normal BMI range being called "too skinny" and told to "go eat a cheeseburger." A bully is a bully at any weight or size. Report