New Study Suggests Exposure to Weight Stigma is Unhealthy

Jan 21, 2014

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Exposure to weight stigma actually causes physiological stress in women, according to a new Yale University study published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Viewing images of weight stigma, or negative stereotypical images of overweight people, has already been proven to cause psychological stress in previous studies. The new study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity goes a step further, proving that watching images of weight stigma actually has a negative impact on a person's health.

About 120 lean and overweight women were measured for cortisol levels in their saliva, both before and after watching either a weight-stigmatizing video or a neutral video. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, suppresses the immune system, and can lead to hypertension and insulin resistance.

The results were dramatic. Both the lean and overweight women who watched the stigmatizing video had much greater cortisol activity when compared with the group that watched the neutral video. "What this really showed us is that weight stigma is not benign," said Natasha Schvey, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Yale, and lead author of the study. "We realized from this study that weight stigma affects all who are exposed, and not just those who are overweight. We gleaned from that that chronic and repeated exposure to weight stigma may actually be contributing to poor health over the long run."