Stigmatizing messages targeted at combating obesity may have negative effects, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Brenda Major, Ph.D., from the University of California in Santa Barbara, and colleagues assessed whether exposure to weight-stigmatizing messages threaten the social identity of individuals who perceive themselves as overweight, and the impact of these messages on the resources necessary for exercising self-control when presented with high-calorie food. Participants included 93 females who were randomized to read either a news article about stigma faced by overweight individuals in the job market or a control article.
The researchers found that self-perceived overweight women, but not women who did not perceive themselves as overweight, consumed more calories and felt less capable of controlling their eating after exposure to a weight-stigmatizing news article versus a non-stigmatizing article. Among self-perceived overweight and non-overweight women, reading a weight-stigmatizing article correlated with increased concerns about being a target of stigma.
“Public health campaigns aimed at reducing obesity but that stigmatize overweight and obese individuals may have negative psychological and behavioral consequences that ultimately can impair their efforts at weight control,” the authors write.