Associations between Internalized Weight Stigma and Visceral Adipose Tissue Status are Observed in Women but not Men

Stigma Health. 2022 May;7(2):161-168. doi: 10.1037/sah0000381.


Purpose: This study investigated the relationship between internalized weight stigma (IWS) and visceral adipose tissue (VAT), an independent predictor of cardiometabolic disease risk, and how this relationship is moderated by gender.

Methods: Participants (N=70, 81% white, 51% women, M age=30.4±7.8 years, M BMI=28.7±5.5 kg/m2, M BF%=32.4±8.9%) completed in-lab measures of demographic factors (age, gender, race/ethnicity), IWS (Weight Bias Internalization Scale-Modified; WBIS-M) and visceral adiposity. VAT mass was measured via DXA. Primary moderation analysis investigated the effect of gender on associations between IWS and VAT mass. Covariates were age, race/ethnicity, and total body fat percent.

Results: After adjusting for covariates in the primary moderation analysis, WBIS-M scores displayed a positive association with VAT mass (b=32.58, p=0.033). The relationship between WBIS-M scores and VAT mass was moderated by gender (b=68.63, p=0.020); no relationship between WBIS-M scores and VAT mass was observed in men (b=-2.71, p=0.894), whereas a positive association between WBIS-M scores and VAT mass was observed in women (b=65.92, p=0.003).

Conclusions: Internalization of weight stigma was associated with greater visceral adiposity in women across the BMI spectrum, suggesting it as a chronic stressor. Future studies should investigate directionality and causality of this relationship to elucidate mechanisms of stigma-associated CVD risk.

Keywords: VAT; internalized weight bias; internalized weight stigma; visceral adipose tissue; visceral adiposity; women.