There’s new evidence supporting weight stigma as an important health concern and that promotion of diets and weight loss is not the solution.
A meta-analysis published in September 2019 of 105 studies and 59,172 participants confirms that weight stigma has a unique, significant, and negative effect on mental health at all ages and for genders. Self-stigma as well as public stigma have a demonstrated negative effect. The researchers additionally found a particularly strong association between weight stigma, body image dissatisfaction, quality of life, and symptoms of depression.
The authors point out that:
Surprisingly, most health‐related interventions working with individuals affected by overweight or obesity do not address weight stigma but rather focus on weight loss.71 Broadening the focus by considering weight stigma might enhance the currently comparably low effectiveness of these interventions.72 Further, it is not certain that all individuals with overweight want to reduce their weight, but they might need support to deal with the harmful consequences of perceived weight stigma.
This meta‐analysis quantifies the correlative evidence for the negative consequences of weight stigma for a range of mental health outcomes. To improve the well‐being and protect the psychological functioning of individuals with overweight or obesity, addressing weight stigma is a promising avenue. One third of the world’s population are affected by overweight and consequently at high risk of being affected by weight stigma. Education about overweight and weight stigma as well as policies to protect people with overweight against stigma is an important challenge for better mental health on a global level.
The authors would like to see more research on protective factors such as social support and adaptive coping, as well as more diversity represented in the research samples.