From the book “Your Journey Out of Obesity” – Author: Dr Nagi Jean Safa
When you are overweight or obese, the social consequences can be very disturbing and serious, specially in the Lebanese society. Obese and overweight people are often subjected to stigma and bias, particularly suffering negative attitudes in areas of their lives such as employment, education, medical, interpersonal relationships, and mass media.
The Stigma of Being Overweight
Negative attitudes towards overweight people are generally known as bias and stigma, because these adverse attitudes affect our interpersonal activities and interactions in such a demeaning way. Stigma may show up as verbal bias, such as teasing, ridicule, derogatory names, stereotypes, or pejorative language; while physical stigma shows up as grabbing, touching, poking, or other similar aggressive behaviors. Other physical stigmas include seats or chairs in public places not big enough to accommodate larger people, medical equipment too small for obese patients, or shops not carrying larger-sized clothing.
In its extreme form, the stigma of being overweight or obese results in subtle and obvious forms of discrimination, and these include discrimination in employment where an obese applicant is refused a promotion or new position due to their appearance, regardless of their qualifications.
Weight Stigma; And Where It Occurs
Unfortunately, weight stigma is almost everywhere. In experiments, it was shown that if a job resume was accompanied by a video or photograph of an overweight applicant, the applicant would be negatively rated and unlikely to be hired. Further research indicated that overweight employees are stereotyped to be less competent, lazy, lacking in self-discipline, sloppy, less conscientious, disagreeable, and poor role models. In an employment setting, for example, an overweight or obese person could endure bias from multiple sources.
Further, overweight staff members could suffer penalties in their pay packet because they tend to receive less salary for the same jobs, are unlikely to be promoted (compared with thin people), and they’re more likely to work at lower paying jobs.
In a school setting, overweight or obese students will usually endure endless ridicule and harassment from their peers, and this includes negative and unfriendly attitudes from teachers and other school staff. In experiments, it was shown that if a job resume was accompanied by a video or photograph of an overweight applicant, the applicant would be negatively rated and unlikely to be hired.
When it comes to college, research proves that fully qualified overweight or obese students, females in particular, are more likely to be refused entry to college than their average-weight peers. If a job resume was accompanied by a video or photograph of an overweight applicant, the applicant would be negatively rated Bias against obese patients in medical facilities has been documented among nurses, physicians, dieticians, psychologists, and medical students; with the perception that the obese patient must be lazy, unsuccessful, unintelligent, unpleasant, weak-willed, and overindulgent. It is unfortunate that, because of these negative attitudes by health care staff, obese patients are more likely to avoid seeking medical care. Research shows that in women in particular, heavier patients are quite likely to delay or cancel appointments with preventive health care providers, due to this bias against them.
Weight Stigma; And Its Consequences
It follows that obese adults who experience weight stigmatization in Lebanon, suffer from higher rates of anxiety, depression, poor psychological adjustment, and social isolation. In addition, it is common for obese adults to internalize and accept these negative attitudes towards them, resulting in very low self-esteem. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, poor psychological adjustment, and social isolation It is unfortunate that Lebanese society tells us that our weight is subject to our own personal control, and for obese people it means the only way to challenge this belief is to lose the extra weight.
There are so many negative consequences for eating behaviors due to stigma, because the stigma sabotages weight loss attempts and usually leads to the obese person eating more food. In addition, stigma affects a person’s physical health because of the bias experienced in medical situations: the effect on the obese person is to avoid health care services altogether to avoid the bias against them.
One area that has not been determined is how stigma affects the self-care of the obese person. One wonders if the stigma of being overweight may affect their own self-care or add to further complications and co-morbidities of being overweight.
Weight Stigma; And How It Affects Children?
Sadly, overweight and obese children are often targets of stigma, and they are particularly innocent and vulnerable to the consequences of bias. These negative experiences can begin in children as young as three years of age, with the peers of overweight children associating their extra weight with negative characteristics, such as being stupid, mean, unhappy, ugly, and without friends. School can be a very unhappy place for overweight children, with the stigma of their peers leading to derogatory name-calling and weight-related teasing.
Stigma and bias can only have adverse implications for the emotional well-being of our children. Children who are subjected to weight-stigma have been shown in research to engage in self-blame for what they are experiencing, and to internalize negative attitudes.
In adolescents, research shows that depression and low self-esteem are direct results of weight-based teasing: in addition, overweight teenagers are likely to become socially isolated. Moreover, the alarming results of studies now prove that there is a definite association between obesity and suicide attempts among our youth.
Weight Stigma; And How We Can Reduce It
Researchers and clinicians in the field of obesity have the ability to employ different strategies to improve attitudes and to reduce weight stigma. Health professionals themselves must start working on their own biases by developing empathy to their overweight patients, and working harder to help people who really do need their understanding, and their help.