Objective: This study examined the relationship between internalization of negative weight-based stereotypes and indices of eating behaviors and emotional well-being in a sample of overweight and obese women.
Research method and procedures: The sample was comprised of 1013 women who belonged to a national, non-profit weight loss organization. Participants completed an on-line battery of self-report questionnaires measuring frequency of weight stigmatization and coping responses to deal with bias and symptoms of depression and self-esteem, attitudes about weight and obesity, and binge eating behaviors. In addition, participants were asked to list the most common weight-based stereotypes and whether they believed them to be true or false.
Results: Participants who believed that weight-based stereotypes were true reported more frequent binge eating and refusal to diet in response to stigma experiences compared with those who reported stereotypes to be false. The degree to which participants believed stereotypes to be true or false was not related to types or amount of stigma experiences reported, self-esteem, depression, or attitudes toward obese persons. In addition, engaging in weight loss strategies as a response to bias was not predicted by stereotype beliefs or by actual stigma experiences, regardless of the amount or types of stigma reported.
Discussion: These findings suggest that obese individuals who internalize negative weight-based stereotypes may be particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of stigma on eating behaviors and also challenge the notion that stigma may motivate obese individuals to engage in efforts to lose weight. This study highlights a new area of research that warrants attention to better understand weight stigma and its potential consequences for health.