A new study has found evidence to suggest that making overweight or obese individuals feel ashamed about their excess weight could lead to them putting on more pounds instead of shedding them.
The research, published in the journal Obesity, comes from academics at University College London who examined previous study data from nearly 3,000 middle-aged adults ranging from normal body weight to obese (body mass index of 30 to 39.9).
Participants were questioned on whether they had experienced any form of day-to-day discrimination they felt was linked to their weight, from being treated disrespectfully and receiving poor service in shops to being harassed. One in 20, or 5%, reported weight discriminatio, but this rose significantly to 1 in 3 among the severely obese (BMI of 40 or above).
During the four-year study, the researchers found people in all weight groups who experienced weight discrimination gained almost 1kg, or just over 2lb, on average, while no weight gain was noted among those who did not. In fact, adults who reported no discrimination typically lost 0.7kg in weight.
While there was no evidence discrimination caused weight gain, the findings suggest it is counterproductive and could further raise the risk of developing obesity-related disorders such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Instead of blaming and shaming people for being overweight, the researchers said it is better for both health professionals and the general public to be supportive and encouraging.
Lead author Dr Sarah Jackso, from the department of epidemiology and public health at UCL, said: “There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight.
“Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food.
“Weight discrimination has also been shown to make people feel less confident about taking part in physical activity, so they tend to avoid it.”
Prof Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL, added: “Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”

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