Obesity stigma reduction

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Grosko, Teressa Anna
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The prevalence of overweight and obesity is on the rise. Being overweight or obese is associated with serious medical, psychological, and social consequences. The main social consequence of being overweight or obese is stigma, which is detrimental to overweight and obese people. Three types of obesity stigma reduction interventions have been proposed and tested: changing attributions, increasing empathy, and social consensus. The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of these interventions and to determine the effectiveness of an intervention that incorporates major elements of the three interventions. Three hundred eighty one University of Manitoba undergraduate students participated in this study. They were randomly assigned to one of five intervention groups: status quo group, changing attributions group, increasing empathy group, social consensus group, and multi-level intervention group. The interventions involved presenting participants with information intended to influence participants’ perceptions of overweight and obese individuals. Pre-test and post-test ratings were obtained on participants’ attributions about weight, feelings about obese people, and endorsement of positive and negative stereotypes of obese people. Analyses of these ratings revealed that the empathy and multi-level interventions are the only interventions that improved attributions, feelings, and endorsement of stereotypes, and this suggests that the multi-level and empathy interventions were the most powerful. On the other hand, the attribution intervention had the largest overall effect and affected attributions, feelings, and negative stereotypes. Therefore, there are reasons to believe that the attribution intervention was the most powerful in this study. Participants were subsequently asked to rate a target overweight person. Half of all participants were informed that the target was overweight because of medical reasons, while the other half were informed that the target was overweight because of regular overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. Surprisingly, the intervention groups did not significantly differ in target ratings on any variable. Reasons for this lack of effect are discussed. A main effect did occur in the ratings of the target for controllability information. Specifically, participants who were informed that the target was overweight for uncontrollable reasons (e.g., glandular disorder) reported more favorable ratings in liking her and not blaming her, as compared to participants who were informed that the target was overweight for controllable reasons (e.g., regular overeating and sedentary lifestyle). Ratings of the target’s characteristics and physical attractiveness did not change with this manipulation. Overall, this study provided logical and consistent results, while adding specific information to the literature. Further, this study offered a new, effective intervention for obesity stigma reduction, as well as providing some support for the empathy and attribution interventions. These three interventions proved to be the strongest in this study, and perhaps they will one day be used as part of a more global intervention to reduce stigma and discrimination toward overweight and obese people.
obesity, stigma, attribution, social consensus, overweight