Weight bias in 2001 versus 2013: contradictory attitudes among obesity researchers and health professionals

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Jan;23(1):46-53. doi: 10.1002/oby.20910. Epub 2014 Oct 8.


Objectives: To assess levels of two types of anti-fat bias in obesity specialists, explicit bias, or consciously accessible anti-fat attitudes, and implicit bias, or attitudes that are activated outside of conscious awareness, were examined. This study also assessed changes over time by comparing levels of bias in 2013 to published data from 2001.

Methods: In 232 attendees at the ObesityWeek 2013 conference, we measured explicit anti-fat bias and conducted the Implicit Association Test. These data were compared to those from a study conducted at the 2001 meeting of this group.

Results: Participants exhibited significant implicit and explicit anti-fat/pro-thin bias. Positivity of professional experience with obesity, but not type of professional experience, was correlated with lower explicit anti-fat bias. Compared to 2001, the 2013 sample had lower levels of implicit bias and higher levels of explicit bias.

Conclusions: Although implicit anti-fat attitudes appeared to decrease from 2001 to 2013, explicit anti-fat attitudes increased. Future research should examine whether increasing positive experiences with obese patients reduces anti-fat bias among health professionals. Together, these results suggest that despite the current climate of widespread anti-fat bias, there are pathways toward understanding and ameliorating this bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Awareness
  • Body Weight*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / ethics
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Prejudice*
  • Research Personnel / ethics
  • Research Personnel / psychology*
  • Self Concept