Have a friend or family member who needs to lose weight? Here’s one thing that won’t work: Fat shaming.
A new study from the University College London says that fat shaming others–such as bullying them for being too big–can actually cause people to gain, not lose, weight.
While the results aren’t surprising to researchers, it could shock others, who may believe shaming someone for being fat motivates them to lose weight.
“Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain,” says Sarah Jackson, lead author of the study. “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.”
Jackson, who works as a researcher in the University College London’s department of epidemiology and public health, came to these findings after drawing data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which studied the health of adults aged 50 or older. In this study, she specifically studied around 3,000 adults of varying sizes, identifying those who had faced weight discrimination. According to her findings, 5 percent of them reported being “fat shamed”–which, not surprisingly, affected mostly those perceived to be overweight or obese.
Then, noting who had faced weight discrimination, she tracked their weights over the next four years to see if it helped them lose or gain weight. Not surprisingly, those who had been fat shamed gained more weight–about an average of 0.95kg. Those who did not experience discrimination, however, actually lost around the same amount of weight.
To Jackson, these results prove that it just doesn’t pay off to fat shame others.
“There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight,” says Jackson. “Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain.”
In addition, Jackson explains that fat shaming may make people prone to weight gain because it encourages comfort eating–the act eating more food to deal with emotional issues. It can also decrease a person’s self-confidence, making them less likely to exercise.
Other experts allege that fat shaming also contributes to the obesity epidemic.
“Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution,” says Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Center at the University College London. “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.”
What These Results Mean For You
Obviously, being obese isn’t healthy–but does discriminating people encourage them to lose it? According to this evidence, it doesn’t; in fact, it can make it worse. The solution? If you’re truly worried about the weight of a friend or family member, don’t criticize–help them find resources to make it easier to manage their weight instead.
Readers: How do you encourage others to lose weight?