Weight stigma is stressful. A review of evidence for the Cyclic Obesity/Weight-Based Stigma model

Appetite. 2014 Nov:82:8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.06.108. Epub 2014 Jul 2.


Weight stigma is highly pervasive, but its consequences are understudied. This review draws from theory in social psychology, health psychology, and neuroendocrinology to construct an original, generative model called the cyclic obesity/weight-based stigma (COBWEBS) model. This model characterizes weight stigma as a "vicious cycle" - a positive feedback loop wherein weight stigma begets weight gain. This happens through increased eating behavior and increased cortisol secretion governed by behavioral, emotional, and physiological mechanisms, which are theorized to ultimately result in weight gain and difficulty of weight loss. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the existing literature for evidence supporting such a model, propose ways in which individuals enter, fight against, and exit the cycle, and conclude by outlining fruitful future directions in this nascent yet important area of research.

Keywords: Cortisol; Eating behavior; Obesity; Overweight; Stigma; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Humans
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss*