The Role of Stigma in Weight Loss Maintenance Among U.S. Adults

Ann Behav Med. 2017 Oct;51(5):754-763. doi: 10.1007/s12160-017-9898-9.


Background: Challenges of maintaining long-term weight loss are well-established and present significant obstacles in obesity prevention and treatment. A neglected but potentially important barrier to weight-loss maintenance is weight stigmatization.

Purpose: We examined the role of weight stigma-experienced and internalized-as a contributor to weight-loss maintenance and weight regain in adults.

Methods: A diverse, national sample of 2702 American adults completed an online battery of questionnaires assessing demographics, weight-loss history, subjective weight category, experienced and internalized weight stigma, weight-monitoring behaviors, physical activity, perceived stress, and physical health. Analyses focused exclusively on participants who indicated that their body weight a year ago was at least 10% less than their highest weight ever (excluding pregnancy), the weight loss was intentional, and that attempts to lose or maintain weight occurred during the past year (n = 549). Participants were further classified as weight regainers (n = 235) or weight-loss maintainers (n = 314) based on subsequent weight loss/gain. Data were collected in 2015 and analyzed in 2016.

Results: Hierarchical logistic regression models showed that internalized weight stigma and subjective weight category made significant individual contributions to prediction of weight-loss maintenance, even after accounting for demographics, perceived stress, experienced stigma, physical health, and weight-loss behaviors. For every one-unit increase in internalized weight stigma, the odds of maintaining weight loss decreased by 28% (95% CI: 14-40%, p < .001).

Conclusions: Findings provide initial evidence that overlooked psychosocial factors, like weight stigma, may hinder weight-loss maintenance. Implications for addressing stigma in obesity-focused clinical interventions are highlighted.

Keywords: Bias; Internalization; Obesity; Stigma; Weight loss maintenance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • United States
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss*
  • Young Adult