People most at risk of internalised weight stigma are those pressured to lose weight as teenagers, non-heterosexual females and individuals with socioeconomic disadvantages, according to new research.

Internalised weight stigma (IWS) is when someone views themselves as being less attractive, competent or valuable because of their weight.

A new study led by the University of Bristol, examined data from over 4,000 31-year-olds from Bristol’s Children of the 90s, also called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, for differences in IWS by sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, sexual orientation, and family and wider social influences, using confounder-adjusted multivariable regression.

The researchers found that non-heterosexual females are at greater risk of IWS as well as people who spent most of their 20s not in education, employment or training, or whose mothers had less educational qualifications.

They also reported that the social environment during adolescence and young adulthood was important. IWS was higher for people who at age 13 felt pressured to lose weight from family and the media or who had experienced bullying.

Dr Amanda Hughes, Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) and corresponding author, said: “The family environment in adolescence, bullying and pressure to lose weight from the media may have long-lasting impacts on how people value themselves based on their weight as adults.

“We have an opportunity to reduce weight stigma and its consequences by changing how we discuss weight in the media, in public spaces and in families, and how we respond to bullying in schools, workplaces, and other settings.”

She added: “This is crucial considering how common pressure to lose weight and weight-related bullying, stigma and discrimination are in many cultures around the world.”

The team of researchers aims to conduct further research to assess the psychological processes involved in IWS caused by social factors.

In England one in four people is living with obesity.

Due to the negative stereotypes surrounding obesity and weight-related discrimination in society, those affected by weight stigma are more likely to suffer from poor mental health, eating disorders and can wait before seeking medical treatment.

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