Latner Exposes Obesity Bias
By SHANNON ROSENBERG
Latner and her colleague Kerry O’ Brien have been examining the effects of weight on people’s social perception of others.
In their study, young people were asked to read excerpts on women who had either lost 70 pounds, maintained a stable healthy weight, or were either currently obese or thin. Then the participants were asked to give their opinions of the woman they read about, such as how attractive they found her.
An unexpected finding was that participants had a greater negative bias toward obese people after reading about women who had been previously obese and lost weight, as opposed to those who had remained at a stable weight regardless of whether or not she was obese-stable or thin-stable.
“Prejudice against obese people is widespread and hurtful,” Latner said. “Many obese people are trying to lose weight to escape painful discrimination. Surprisingly, however, thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history. Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who has always been thin — despite having identical height and weight.”
Latner and O’Brien said one of their more disturbing findings was that when participants were shown that body weight is easily controllable, it increased the negative attitude toward obese people. “Descriptions of weight loss such as those often promoted on television may significantly worsen obesity stigma,” Latner explained. “Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more.”
In addition, results showed that residual prejudice could be the reason for lower- than-expected earnings and occupational attainment by women who were previously overweight.
“Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring, it may even outlast the obesity itself,” she said. “Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by obesity prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level.”