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What is the impact of obesity stigma?

Obesity stigma directly affects the emotional and physical health of Canadians living with obesity.

Some major psychological and physical health impacts include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased stress (which may contribute to physical health problems and increased adiposity)
  • Overall poor quality of life

This psychological impact of obesity stigma can directly affect day-to-day social interactions resulting in inequalities such as:

  • Social exclusion and isolation. Individuals with obesity are often excluded from social activities by their friends, peers and families because of their weight. They may also isolate themselves because they are afraid of becoming the target of derogatory comments and jokes.

 

  • Lower economic outcomes due to weight-based discrimination in the workplace. Research shows that individuals with obesity can earn less for comparable employment, receive fewer promotions and are more likely to be fired, suspended, or demoted because of their weight.

 

  • Poor academic performance due to weight-based bullying in schools. This does not mean that individuals with obesity are less intelligent. Research shows that children and youth who have been victimized because of their weight report missing more days of school, and experiencing lower expectations by their teachers, which can result in poorer academic performance.

 

  • Inadequate healthcare services due to weight bias attitudes among health professionals. People affected by obesity can be denied healthcare services because of their weight, experience derogatory comments from health professionals, and receive inadequate care (e.g. having unrelated medical problems attributed to their weight). Experiences of obesity stigma from health professionals can lead to individuals being reluctant to seek medical care and cancel and/or delay important preventative healthcare services. Individuals who have experienced obesity stigma in public settings can also be less willing to participate in physical activity programs for fear of being victimized again. Experiencing obesity stigma in healthcare settings can also prevent individuals from seeking professional help to manage their obesity. More importantly, weight-based teasing can also make individuals engage in unhealthy eating patterns and unhealthy weight control practices which can cause other medical conditions.

While some people will lose the motivation to make positive changes for their health, others may turn to emotional eating as a way of coping with negative feelings. Many will keep these issues to themselves and may even begin to accept the hurtful comments as truths, causing even more harm.

Taken together, all of these effects have very real impacts on a person’s overall mental and physical health.

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