Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Emotional & Physical Health Consequences

Weight bias has a significant impact on both emotional and physical health. On an emotional level, weight bias can increase vulnerability to poor body image, low self-esteem, and depression. More alarmingly, research demonstrates that obese young people who are victimized by peers because of their weight are two to three times more likely to engage in suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Weight bias also has negative consequences for physical health. Research shows that overweight youth who are targets of frequent weight-based teasing are more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control and binge eating behaviors, compared to overweight youth who are not teased about their weight. In addition, overweight youth who are victimized by their peers are less likely to participate in physical activity.

Overweight adults experience similar emotional and physical health consequences. In a Rudd Center research study of more than 2,400 overweight and obese adults, 79 percent reported that they had coped with weight bias by eating more and 75% reported that they refused to keep dieting in response to bias. In addition, adults who experienced weight bias were more likely to engage in binge eating. Other evidence suggests that weight stigma reduces the desire to exercise and thus makes obese adults less active.

Finally, weight bias affects health because it influences people’s attitudes toward the health care system. Research has demonstrated that heavier patients are more likely to avoid, cancel, or delay important preventive health care services. When asked why, obese patients attribute these decisions to disrespectful treatment and negative attitudes from health care providers, embarrassment about being weighed, and experiences with medical equipment too small for them. The percentage of patients who reported these barriers increased with body mass index.