Research reveals frequent humiliations faced by overweight people and how they cause depression, comfort eating and weight gain
Overweight people are frequently insulted by shop assistants, ignored by bar staff, left out by friends, mocked by passers-by, ridiculed by the opposite sex and photographed by teenagers as part of a widespread culture of discrimination that can cause depression, comfort eating and ultimately weight gain, research has found.
A study by Slimming World of 2,573 people who have lost weight reveals the extent to which people are treated differently depending purely on their size.
At their heaviest, people suffered humiliations such as young people winding their car window down to shout abuse, fellow passengers refusing to share a seat on public transport, groups of men in nightclubs feigning romantic interest and teenagers taking pictures or videos on their smartphone. As customers, some faced rude comments on their food choices from supermarket staff, laughter from shop assistants when they asked for clothes in a bigger size, and feeling humiliated as bar staff served slimmer customers that were standing behind them first. The results showed that, on average, 40 per cent of overweight people experience some form of judgement, criticism or humiliation at least once-a-week.
The survey found that weight discrimination does not motivate people to lose weight. Instead, incidents of discrimination left recipients feeling ashamed (47 per cent), depressed (41 per cent) and useless (30 per cent), with the majority (65 per cent) turning to food for comfort and only a tiny minority (two per cent) making long-term healthy changes as a result. When asked, two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) reported gaining weight over time since they were first treated unkindly because of their size. This suggests that rather than motivating people who are struggling with their weight, discrimination and stigma actually make things worse.
Slimming World is calling for a greater understanding, right across society, of the impact that weight stigma has on emotional wellbeing, weight control and, ultimately, health. It believes that showing kindness and compassion to people who are overweight and severely overweight and treating all people with respect, regardless of size, would have a significant impact on long-term weight management.
Professor James Stubbs, Research Specialist at Slimming World and Chair of Behaviour Change and Weight Management at the University of Derby, says: “As a society we need to think more about how we treat people who struggle with weight and we need to be more aware of how discrimination can impact on people’s feelings and lifestyle behaviours.
“Criticism of overweight people is widespread and not only is this rude and unpleasant, it’s also really unhelpful when it comes to motivating people to lose weight. In fact the evidence suggests that it undermines people’s attempts at controlling their weight and, for many, even causes increased weight gain.