People around the world are stigmatized for their weight, even in healthcare

More than 50% of adults surveyed in six countries say they have experienced weight stigma, and those who self-stigmatize and blame themselves for their weight they are more likely to avoid healthcare, have less frequent check-ups, and perceive less respect from doctors, according to two new studies from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut (UConn), in the United States.

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These studies, in which the experiences of adults from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States are compared, they are the first multinationals to examine the relationship between weight stigma and negative health encounters.

In each of the six countries investigated, participants who had experienced weight stigma reported that doctors judged them more often because of their weight and they felt that their doctors listened less carefully or respected what they had to say.

The researchers also found that internalizing weight biases can be especially detrimental to health behaviorssuch as obtaining less frequent check-ups and total avoidance of healthcare.

“Despite decades of studies on weight stigma, international comparative research is lacking,” explains Rebecca Puhl, lead author of the study and deputy director of the Rudd Center. The time has come to recognize the stigma of weight as a legitimate social injustice and a public health problem in many countries around the world, and multinational research can inform efforts to address this problem on a global scale ”.

Based on a 2020 international consensus statement calling for the removal of the stigma of weight, supported by more than 100 medical and scientific organizations around the world, Researchers partnered with WW International, Inc., a global behavioral weight management program, to survey 13,996 of its members in six Western countries on weight stigma, internalized weight biases, and health care experiences .

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According to this study, at least half (56-61%) of the people in each country reported experiencing weight stigma and high percentages of participants in each country experienced weight stigma from family members (76% -88%), classmates (72% -81%), doctors (63% -74%), coworkers (54 % -62%) and friends (49% -66%).

In all countries, Stigmatization experiences due to weight were more frequent in childhood and adolescence, and the associated distress was greater during these periods. And in all six countries, people with higher levels of self-blame for their weight were more likely to avoid health care, underwent less frequent check-ups, and perceived the quality of their health care to be lower.

The results of the study, published in the journal ‘International Journal of Obesity’ and in ‘PLOS ONE‘, show that there are many more similarities than differences between countries in terms of the nature, frequency and interpersonal sources of experiences of weight stigmatization, with clear consistencies in the stigma experienced both in close relationships and in different settings, such as healthcare and employment.

“The fact that family members are such common sources of weight stigma in all of these countries indicates the collective need to address weight stigma in the family environment and to help families engage in more supportive communication with loved ones, ”says Puhl. For many people, these experiences begin in their youth on the part of their parents and close relatives, and can last for many years and have long-term negative consequences ”.

“Our results also provide a compelling reason to intensify international efforts to reduce weight biases held by medical professionals,” he adds. We must prioritize efforts to establish a weight-stigma-free health culture, and we also need to work collaboratively to develop supportive interventions to help people when they experience this stigma. “

With information from Europa Press


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