Seventy participants, aged 22 to 39, with an average BMI of 29 and an average of 33% total body fat, participated in the study. An 11-item, self-reported questionnaire was used to assess participants’ internalized weight stigma with scores ranging from one to seven; seven indicating the most weight bias internalization and one indicating the least. Scientists then measured visceral and total body fat.
Among the key findings, the study found that women had higher levels of weight bias internalization than men and that higher levels of internalized weight stigma corresponded to higher levels of visceral fat in women only.
“Even though men typically, on average, had more of this harmful fat than women, we didn’t see the same relationship with the psychological, social stigma,” Keirns said. “For women, the way we view our bodies and how others view and judge our bodies appears to have negative effects. Even though the women had less visceral adiposity than men, it may be impacting our health more because of the negative way we feel about ourselves.”
The study highlighted the important challenges of weight stigma.
“Clinicians should be aware that weight stigma leads to more stress, higher cortisol levels, a greater likelihood of unhealthy behaviors, lower likelihood of seeking care and generally contributes to more weight gain and worse outcomes,” said Dr. Chiadi Ericson Ndumele, American Heart Association volunteer expert.