Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity recently published an article entitled “Stigma as a (Dis)incentive for Weight Loss and Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors” addressing if weight stigmas and fat shaming are effective methods of enticing people to lose weight. The evidence suggests that the answer is no. Please see below for excerpts from the article:
“In turn, a culture of blame has been cultivated — with common perceptions that weight stigma is justifiable, and perhaps even necessary, to motivate people with obesity to become healthier and lose weight. To this end, some scholars have proposed that stigmatization is an appropriate strategy to address obesity.”
“…the issue of whether stigma might serve as a tool to facilitate improved health and weight-loss outcomes is an empirical question and one that, until the past decade, had not really been tested. There is already considerable evidence on the adverse psychological, social, and economic outcomes of weight stigmatization,[8,17,18] but now a new and growing knowledge base of evidence has examined implications of obesity stigma specifically for health behaviors, health indices, and weight loss.”
“Taken together, the emerging evidence indicates that obesity stigma contributes to unhealthy behaviors, interferes with weight-loss efforts, and reinforces obesity. There is no indication that obesity stigma would be effective as a public health tool to incentivize weight loss.”
While I’m glad this article unequivocally eliminates fat shaming as an effective motivator for weight loss, I’m appalled that this strategy was proposed in the first place. I am saddened that there are people in this world who think it’s even remotely OK to suggest a strategy based on hate and bullying to combat obesity (or anything else). Having been obese, I can attest to the fact that the self-imposed shame regarding my weight was painful enough without adding shame from others. My shame didn’t serve as a motivator, it propelled me further into despair, depression and my binge-eating disorder.
It’s unfortunate that this strategy wasn’t immediately discredited but I’m grateful that Dr. Puhl published this article so there’s no doubt that fat shaming is ineffective.