'Fat Shaming' May Actually Lead to Weight Gain

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Harassing obese people, a practice known as "fat shaming," does not encourage them to lose weight and can actually result in weight gain, a new study from the United Kingdom suggests.

In the study, nearly 3,000 adults were asked whether they had faced discrimination because of their weight, including whether they had been harassed, treated with less respect, received poor service at restaurants and stores or been treated as if they were not smart.

About 5 percent said they had experienced such fat shaming. Over a four-year period, those who reported weight discrimination gained about 2 pounds (0.95 kilograms) on average, while those who did not report weight discrimination lost about 1.5 pounds (0.71 kg). [11 Surprising Things That Make Us Gain Weight]

"Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution," Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London, said in a statement. "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," Wardle said.

Weight discrimination has been linked to behaviors that can lead to weight gain, such as comfort eating (or eating energy-dense foods), said study researcher Sarah Jackson, also of University College London. Fat shaming may also make people feel less confident about engaging in physical activity, "so they tend to avoid it," Jackson said.

The study only found an association, and so cannot prove that weight discrimination causes weight gain. But the findings agree with previous research. A study published last year found that people who are not obese who experience weight discrimination are 2.5 times more likely to become obese a few years later than those who do not experience weight discrimination.

The new findings were published today (Sept. 10) in the journal Obesity.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.