Obesity Stigma: Highly Inaccurate Perceptions of Human Mind

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You may have heard a lot of people suffering from this condition. Nearly 2.1 billion people or 30% of the world population are either overweight or obese [Data from 188 countries].

Quite surprising, isn’t it?

Obesity stigma affects human minds emotionally and tampers the state of well-being.

It’s about time that this social evil gets banished from the face of the earth.

The Negative Terminology

Obesity is the root cause of many life threatening diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, hypertension, and whatnot. Most of us are aware of the symptoms of obesity and how it can impair the normal functioning of the body. But, what’s even worse is the way people with obesity are treated differently. Have you or anyone you know been victims of weight related stigmatization? Obesity stigma is increasing at an alarming rate in almost every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood. People who judge fail to realize that they didn’t choose to be obese in the first place. It’s just another medical disorder that can be treated.

Skip over the facts if you know about obesity (that’ll save you two minutes).

Facts About Obesity

weight bias
A person just casually checking out his weight. Nothing more.


Obesity is a chronic medical condition in which the body accumulates fats to such an excess amount (usually 20% or more than individual ideal body weight) such that it causes undesirable effects on our health. Ideally, our body requires only a certain amount of energy but when we consume more food than what is necessary, it leads to accumulation of extra calories which are unburnt and later appear as layers of fat beneath the skin.

Foods which are high in calories or fats are primary causes of obesity. There are other medical conditions which can cause obesity such as hypothyroidism, cushing’s syndrome, insulin resistance syndrome, polycystic syndrome etc. Also, there are many pharmaceutical drugs which causes obesity as a side effect. More importantly, obesity is also linked with genetics as when one or both parents are obese, chances of the child to  be diagnosed with obesity is twofold. In addition to that, psychological factors such as stress, depression and emotional problems are also linked with obesity; people tend to eat more junk food when under stress. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), physical inactivity is also strongly correlated with weight gain in both sexes.

“Hey, look! A Fat Loser”

an obese man

Obesity stigma highlights what’s wrong with people’s attitudes these days. Making unreasonable judgments based on physical appearance leads to social rejection and prejudice which can severely affect the life of an obese individual. Stigmatization ranges from verbal teasing to physical aggression. Even though it is different from discrimination, both of these exacerbate psychological and physical health of people with obesity.

According to Rebecca Puhl’s research, the rate of weight discrimination is relatively close to the prevalence of race and age discrimination and in 1995-2005 decade, this type of discrimination has been increased by 66% in America.

Obesity stigma is often sighted in academic and professional institutions and people report this form of maltreatment from even family, friends and partners. These victims of stigmatization and discrimination end up in a state of depression, having lost self-esteem and eventually develop suicidal behaviour. This form of evil threatens the world and further deteriorates the state of public health.

The worst part is that there are no federal laws currently existing to protect people from discrimination based on weight which makes the matter worse.

People face stigmatization in the workplace much more compared to other grounds. people with obesity face weight bias at every stage of the employment cycle: selection, placement, compensation, assignments, promotions, assessments, discipline and termination. In some places, they find it hard to land a job and if they get selected, they are subjected to piss talk and derogatory comments from coworkers and bosses. Additionally, the reasons for not being promoted are not justified. Employers fire people for being overweight and it’s unfair but certainly not illegal.

obesity stigma in society

According to a 2006 survey conducted for 2249 overweight and obese adults, a quarter of the participants had experienced job discrimination because of their weight and 43%  participants were found to be facing obesity stigma from their employers.

In a similar study from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (N=3437), 26% of obese and 31% of very obese experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination in hiring procedure is the most noticeable, for example, as compared to thinner women, obese women are less likely to get hired despite having the required qualification and relevant work experience. In general, people with obesity are treated unfairly in workplace and the lack of morality in employees contribute to weight stigmatization.

Media: Kingom of the Thin (Beautiful)

Weight stigmatization is easily observed in the media sector. There are two aspects for this: one being categorized as ugly in the world of entertainment and the other is seen as a form of teasing and abuse via media. If we talk about the former, according to Puhl et al. (2009), media is a potent source of obesity stigma mainly, entertainment channels, news platforms, advertisements as they often influence, reflect, and reinforce social norms, attitudes, and beliefs about weight. Here’s something we can all firmly agree on: in television programmes, obese actors are antagonists, they are harassed, portrayed as unattractive, ridiculed so that the audience can laugh at and cast in a role where they display vigorous eating behaviours which is a major stereotype associated with obesity.

In news channels, if they fail to find credible sources, people with obesity are occasionally blamed for social issues like poverty, food shortage, fuel hike, global warming and all sorts of unrelated crap. News media show only the root cause of obesity but not the social or genetic factors.


You must have come across many articles discussing the issues of weight bias but rather than removing the negative perceptions on obesity from the minds of the audience, the irony is that they equally contribute to weight bias. Finding it hard to believe? Here are some examples

People are identified as “obese person” rather than “person diagnosed with obesity” cited in articles from major news portals. Negative images are used to portray obesity (they show poorly rendered photographs of the stomach or parts of the body). The first aspect has a very large impact on people with obesity as these websites have conveyed the message to a really large number of readers in an inappropriate manner.

Now, the second aspect of media involves discrimination in social media. There are memes and videos targeted at overweight individuals which generate more views, ratings, and user comments than those which lack the essence of trolling. Trolls aren’t meant to be taken seriously but regardless of that, they leave a negative impression on obesity.

Will There be an End?

Sadly, weight stigmatisation is increasing on a daily basis and it will not stop until we change our attitudes and outlook towards people with obesity.

The elimination of weight bias requires a major shift in societal attitudes. People need to understand that obesity occurs due to body metabolism, not because of individual fault. Even if a person eats healthy, but suffer from hypothyroidism or having genetic records of obesity in the family, then the chances of becoming overweight or obese are more. People with obesity have a personality just like any “normal” human being.

What they require is motivation, encouragement and equal opportunity. Nobody has the right to judge them or mock them based on their physical appearance. On a final note, I’d like to quote the lyrics of the Eminem hit, Beautiful,

In my shoes, just to see what it’s like to be me

I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes, just to see what it’d be like to

Feel your pain, you feel mine, go inside each other’s minds

Just to see what we find, look at shit through each other’s eyes

But don’t let ’em say you ain’t beautiful

Stop being a toxic bully and burn the roots of obesity stigma! 

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