Putting on weight stigma: A randomized study of the effects of wearing a fat suit on eating, well-being, and cortisol

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 Sep;24(9):1892-8. doi: 10.1002/oby.21575. Epub 2016 Jul 28.


Objective: Although a considerable amount of research has revealed connections between weight stigma and mental and physical health outcomes, no studies to date have experimentally manipulated the experience of obesity to understand how weight stigma causally affects eating behavior, physiology, and psychological well-being. Research has also not yet identified effective strategies for reducing weight stigma.

Methods: In this research, the effect of weight stigma on psychological outcomes, unhealthy eating behavior, and the stress hormone cortisol was examined by randomly assigning participants to appear obese by wearing a fat suit or not. It was hypothesized that the physical alteration of participants' apparent body size would lead to similar consequences as those associated with the experience of weight stigma and reduce antifat attitudes.

Results: Supporting these hypotheses, experimentally manipulating apparent body size led participants to consume more unhealthy foods and report higher levels of negative effect. However, the study did not show any differences in cortisol reactivity or reduction in antifat attitudes as a function of the fat suit manipulation.

Conclusions: These findings contribute to an understanding of the potentially deleterious psychological and behavioral effects of weight stigma while also informing future interventions to reduce weight stigma.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02745405.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Body Size
  • Body Weight*
  • Eating
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Social Stigma*


  • Hydrocortisone

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02745405