Obesity stigmatization and coping: relation to mental health symptoms, body image, and self-esteem

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999 Mar;23(3):221-30. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0800765.


Objective: To create inventories of stigmatizing situations faced by obese people and ways of coping with stigmatization, and to examine how stigma and coping are related to psychological distress in an obese patient population.

Design: Study 1: Items were generated by asking obese people to list stigmatizing situations they had encountered and their ways of coping. Study 2: Obese patients were surveyed about the frequency with which they encountered each form of stigmatization and employed each form of coping. Cross-sectional data on current psychological adjustment were obtained.

Subjects: Study 1: 63 obese patients (body mass index, BMI > 40 kg/m2); 38 obese non-patients, seven professionals who work with obese patients and 32 obese female authors from the print media. Study 2: 112 gastric bypass patients (BMI 33.9-80.9 kg/m2) and 34 less obese patients (BMI 27.1-57.2 kg/m2).

Measurement: Study 1: Collection of stigmatizing situations and coping responses. Study 2: Frequency of stigmatizing experiences and coping responses, psychological symptoms, body image, and self esteem measures.

Results: Study 1 resulted in two objective questionnaires, consisting of 50 situations and 99 responses. Study 2 found that stigmatization is a common experience, and that obese subjects frequently engage in some effort to cope with stigma. More frequent exposure to stigmatization was associated with greater psychological distress, more attempts to cope, and more severe obesity. Certain coping strategies are associated with greater distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Gastric Bypass
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / surgery
  • Self Concept*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires