Weight Based Victimization

This week, we have a guest writer! Brittany is in her third year in the Psychological Clinical Science PhD program here at NDSU. Her research interests are how emotions and self regulation influence eating disorders. For access to her blog, Significantly Public, click here for their Facebook page and here for their WordPress site.

Obesity now affects over 35% of American adults, with another third of adults considered overweight. The public is generally quite aware that this is a problem affecting our health as a nation and as individuals. But what do we do about it?

Weight-based victimization (commonly referred to as ‘fat shaming’) is when others make comments about an overweight person’s body with the intent to affirm thinness as the desired ideal. In children, weight-based victimization often comes from peers (e.g., students rank overweight children as less likeable than normal weight peers, push/hit them, exclude them), but it also comes from families (restricting their food intake while allowing other siblings to have seconds, calling them names, comparing them to other children). Since obesity has been increasingly common in recent years, researchers predicted that weight-based victimization would decrease due to normalization. They found the opposite; students who are overweight now face even more bullying than students who were overweight in 1961.

Many people, well-intending or not, think that making these comments will help motivate overweight people to lose weight. In reality, weight-based victimization is associated with an increase in the likelihood (by 2.5 times) that an overweight person will become obese in the future. Since this is an association and not an experiment, we can’t be sure that the victimization is what caused people to gain weight, but some think that the distress associated with it could cause overeating. This emotional type of overeating is very close to binge eating, which is overeating accompanied by a sense of loss of control. Studies have found an association (again, not an experiment) between bullying and the development of binge eating disorder, which is the most common type of eating disorder.

All in all, it is possible that weight-based victimization (i.e., fat shaming) leads victims to develop eating disorder symptoms. Some may even develop an eating disorder as a result. If you or anyone you know may be struggling with binge eating disorder or another eating disorder, don’t hesitate to seek support here: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/neda-support-groups. People of all shapes and sizes develop eating disorders; treatment is not just for those who are underweight.

Gray, W. N., Kahhan, N. A., & Janicke, D. M. (2009). Peer victimization and pediatric obesity: A review of the literature. Psychology In The Schools, 46(8), 720-727. doi:10.1002/pits.20410

Striegel-Moore, R. H., Dohm, F., Pike, K. M., Wilfley, D. E., & Fairburn, C. G. (2002). Abuse, bullying, and discrimination as risk factors for binge eating disorder. The American Journal Of Psychiatry, 159(11), 1902-1907. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.11.1902

Sutin, A. R., & Terracciano, A. (2013). Perceived weight discrimination and obesity. Plos ONE, 8(7), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070048


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