Emotional Implications of Weight Stigma Across Middle School: The Role of Weight-Based Peer Discrimination

J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2017 Jan-Feb;46(1):150-158. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188703. Epub 2016 Sep 12.


This study considered the emotional consequences of weight stigmatization in early adolescence by examining the effects of weight-based peer discrimination across middle school. Sampled across 26 urban middle schools, 5,128 youth (52% girls) with complete body mass index data at sixth or 7th grade were included: 30% Latino, 21% White, 14% East/Southeast Asian, 14% Multiethnic, 12% African American/Black, and 9% from other specific ethnic groups. About one third of the sample reported at least one weight-discrimination incident at 7th grade. Controlling for sixth-grade adjustment, perceptions of weight-based peer discrimination at 7th grade were stronger predictors of body dissatisfaction, social anxiety, and loneliness (and somatic symptoms for girls but not boys) at 8th-grade than 7th-grade body mass index. Moreover, heavier body stature during the 1st year in middle school was associated with increased body dissatisfaction by the end of middle school in part due to weight-related disrespectful, exclusionary, and demeaning treatment by peers. Weight-based peer discrimination helps us understand one of the stigmatizing mechanisms underlying the relation between heavy body stature and the progression of emotional problems in early adolescence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / ethnology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Asian / psychology
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Body Weight
  • Emotions
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / ethnology
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Peer Group*
  • Race Relations / psychology*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Students / psychology
  • White People / psychology