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More to obesity than what meets the eye: a comprehensive approach to counteracting obesity stigma
  1. James René Jolin1,2,
  2. Fatima Cody Stanford3,4
  1. 1Department of Government, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Harvard University Global Health and Health Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Medicine-Neuroendocrine Unit, Pediatric Endocrinology, Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Fatima Cody Stanford, Department of Medicine-Neuroendocrine Unit, Pediatric Endocrinology, Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA; fstanford{at}

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The prevalence of obesity in the USA has reached epidemic proportions.1 However, alongside this increase in the rate of obesity in the USA brews another epidemic—one less salient in the discourse surrounding the impact of obesity on the well-being of people with this medical condition, but one that may engender substantial harm: stigma. Weight stigma includes the biases, harmful stereotypes and discrimination that people with overweight and obesity face as a result of their weight. Media portrayals of people with larger bodies, for instance, manifest the well-documented and deep-seated biases that the broader public hold against people with overweight and obesity. In particular, a recent systematic review of 113 studies found that weight stigma is ‘unequivocally’ prevalent across all forms of mass media, including news, entertainment and advertisements.2 The studies included demonstrated that media discourse reinforces the so-called ‘obesity problem’—the notion that larger body proportions are ‘inherently bad’ and that individuals have unilateral control over their weight.2 Social media has also galvanised weight stigma, allowing perpetrators to camouflage themselves behind anonymous profiles to enact their weight biases with abandon.

Weight stigma also frequently intersects with and compounds other forms of bias and discrimination. For instance, weight discrimination and gender discrimination intersect. One study, in particular, indicated that female survey respondents with body mass index (BMI) of 30–35 kg/m2 were three times more likely to experience weight stigma than their male counterparts, demonstrating how gender disparities in physical appearance standards exacerbate the weight stigma female-identifying individuals face.3 Furthermore, individuals with obesity prescribed certain antiobesity medications may also face the stigma against people with a history of drug use. In particular, the prescription of naltrexone—a therapeutic also used to treat individuals with opioid disorders—to patients with obesity may increase their stigma burden by subjecting them to the …

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  • Contributors JRJ conceptualised, drafted and reviewed this article. FCS conceptualised, edited and reviewed this article.

  • Funding National Institutes of Health NIDDK P30 DK040561 (FCS) and L30 DK118710 (FCS).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.