Why Weight-Shaming Is Way More Dangerous Than We Thought

Photographed by Fernanda Silva.
You probably already know that shaming someone about his or her weight is utterly awful and useless. Not only does it not motivate us to change our ways — a new study finds it may actually be deadly, reports Science of Us.

For the study, published this week in Psychological Science, researchers looked at data from two other massive long-term surveys; one began in 2006 and the other in 1995. Together, these studies gave researchers data for nearly 18,800 adults.

Both surveys asked participants in the U.S. about their day-to-day experiences with discrimination. Specifically, subjects were asked questions about how often they felt they had been treated with less respect than other people. Then, the researchers were able to match up those participants with data from The National Death Index to find out which of them were still alive in 2012.

Results showed that participants who felt they had been discriminated against because of their weight were 60% more likely to have died by 2012. Of course, this could be associated with both physical and mental effects of this discrimination (including symptoms of depression). But, even when controlling for those variables in their analyses, the researchers still found a small but significant effect: Those who were discriminated against were about 31% more likely to have died.

This — combined with past research that suggests weight-shaming has intense effects on physical, emotional, and mental health — paints a pretty troubling picture. "These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight is more harmful than actually being overweight," the authors write. So, despite what the health trolls would have you believe, not only does shaming people about their weight not help them at all, it could actually make them less healthy.

Although we don't know exactly how this might happen, the authors suggest that being socially isolated and sedentary could both be playing a role. Having strong relationships is especially important for staying healthy, and we can hardly go a whole day without hearing another horrible thing about the effects of sitting for too long.

All of this is particularly troubling in this age of horrible, trollish Facebook groups (not to mention certain mean-spirited Canadian comedians) that pop up solely to shame women for their weight. As the study authors say, "The consequences of this mistaken belief are now clear: Growing evidence suggests that weight bias does not work... It leads to greater morbidity...and, now, greater mortality."
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