Weight stigmatization and bias reduction: perspectives of overweight and obese adults

Health Educ Res. 2008 Apr;23(2):347-58. doi: 10.1093/her/cym052. Epub 2007 Sep 19.


This study employed qualitative methods with a sample of overweight and obese adults to identify and describe their subjective experiences of weight bias. Participants (274 females and 44 males) completed an online battery of self-report questionnaires, including several open-ended questions about weight stigmatization. These questions asked them to describe their worst experiences of weight stigmatization, their perceptions of common weight-based stereotypes, their feelings about being overweight and their suggestions for strategies to reduce weight stigma in our culture. Participants reported experiencing weight stigma across a range of contexts and involving a variety of interpersonal sources. Close relationship partners (such as friends, parents and spouses) were the most common source of their worst stigmatizing encounters. Participants challenged common weight-based stereotypes (notably, that obese individuals are 'lazy') and reported that they would like the public to gain a better understanding of the difficulties of weight loss, the causes of obesity and the emotional consequences of being stigmatized. Education was reported as the most promising avenue for future stigma-reduction efforts. The experiences and opinions expressed were not significantly different for men versus women or overweight versus obese individuals. A minority of participants expressed beliefs suggestive of self-blame and internalization of weight-based stereotypes. These results indicate that while obese individuals experience weight bias across many domains, more stigma-reduction efforts should target stigmatizing encounters in close relationships, including parents, spouses and friends of obese persons.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Prejudice*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Support
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Loss