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'Fat shaming' obese people more harmful than good: Study

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Fat shaming does more harm to overweight people than any good it may provide, according to a new study. This contradicts some ideas that ridicule may encourage people to lose weight.

People who are criticized about their size are more likely to become obese than those who receive positive encouragement. Researchers believe this effect was caused by subjects who sought comfort in food after receiving criticism.

Exercise by overweight people subjected to fat shaming is also reduced, as many people can become afraid of ridicule.

University College London (UCL) researchers examined almost 3,000 men and women, aged 50 and over, in the study. Each of the subjects was weighed four years apart. They were also quizzed on any discrimination they may have faced due to their weight. A total of 5 percent of subjects reported experiencing weight discrimination, along with 36 percent of the most obese participants.

Over the course  of the study, those people who experienced fat shaming gained an average of two pounds, and were six times as likely to become obese. Those subjects who did not suffer from negative criticism lost a little over a pound-and-a-half, on average.

Researchers on the study believe their work shows health care workers, as well as friends and family of overweight people, can affect others with criticism.

"Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment," Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL, said.

Examples of fat shaming reported by participants in the study included receiving poor service in stores, disrespect and outright harassment. Researchers examined five distinct forms of weight discrimination, which also included receiving poor service by doctors and hospitals, as well as the perception by strangers of low intelligence. Subjects in the study indicated what they believed was the cause of the discrimination, including weight, age, and gender.

"Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food. Weight discrimination has also been shown to make people feel less confident about taking part in physical activity, so they tend to avoid it." Sarah Jackson of UCL told the press.

Due to the nature of the study, it is impossible to tell whether or not ridicule experienced by participants was directly responsible for weight gain.

The study of fat shaming and its effect on obesity was profiled in the journal Obesity.

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