Stigma is a powerful determinant of physical and mental health around the world, a perennial public health concern that is particularly resistant to change. This article builds from sociologist Erving Goffman's classic conception of stigma as a unitary social phenomenon to explore the stigma attached to two seemingly dissimilar conditions: food insecurity in rural Brazil, and obesity in the urban United Arab Emirates. Our analyses underscore that both conditions are stigmatized because they represent a departure from a deeply-held social norm, and in both cases, self-stigma plays an important role. Furthermore, in both cases, the stigma associated with food insecurity and obesity is likely at least as harmful to personal wellbeing as are the biological consequences of these conditions. Finally, evidence increasingly links obesity and food insecurity causally. Our analyses suggest that these forms of stigma transcend individuals and are largely structural in their origins, and therefore that they are most likely to be improved through structural change.
Keywords: Brazil; Fat; Food insecurity; Hunger; Obesity; Stigma; United Arab Emirates.