Food and Behaviour Research

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The ironic effects of weight stigma

Major B, Hunger JM, Bunyan DP, Miller CT (2014) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 51 74 - 80 Elsevier Inc

Web URL: Please read more on the ScienceDirect website here


  America's war on obesity has intensified stigmatization of overweight and obese individuals.

This experiment tested the prediction that exposure to weight-stigmatizing messages threatens the social identity of individuals who perceive themselves as overweight, depleting executive resources necessary for exercising self-control when presented with high calorie food.

Women were randomly assigned to read a news article about stigma faced by overweight individuals in the job market or a control article.

Exposure to weight-stigmatizing news articles caused self-perceived overweight women, but not women who did not perceive themselves as overweight, to consume 
more calories and feel less capable of controlling their eating than exposure to non-stigmatizing articles.

Weight-stigmatizing articles also increased concerns about being a target of stigma among both self-perceived overweight and non-overweight women.

Findings suggest that social messages targeted at combating obesity may have paradoxical and undesired effects.


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