Objective: Weight discrimination is associated with increased risk of obesity. The mechanism of this relationship is unknown, but being overweight is a highly stigmatized condition and may be a source of chronic stress that contributes to the development and pathophysiology of obesity. The objective of this study was to test whether weight stigma is associated with physiological risk factors linked to stress and obesity, including hypercortisolism and oxidative stress, independent of adiposity.
Method: We examined the frequency of experiencing situations involving weight stigma and consciousness of weight stigma in relation to hypothalamic--pituitary--adrenal axis activity and oxidative stress (F₂-isoprostanes) in 45 healthy overweight to obese women.
Results: Independent of abdominal fat, weight stigma was significantly related to measures of cortisol (including salivary measures of cortisol awakening response and serum morning levels) as well as higher levels of oxidative stress. Perceived stress mediated the relationship between weight stigma consciousness and the cortisol awakening response.
Conclusion: These preliminary findings show that weight stigma is associated with greater biochemical stress, independent of level of adiposity. It is possible that weight stigma may contribute to poor health underlying some forms of obesity.