Women may find it harder to escape stigma attached with being obese even after losing weight, says a new study.
For the study, researchers asked participants to read vignettes describing about a woman who had recently lost 70 lbs or had stable weight and who was either currently thin or obese. These participants (both men and women) were then asked about their opinions about this woman and their general perception about obese people.
"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history. Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight," said Dr. Janet Latner, study leader at the University of Hawaii.
The participants described weight stable lean women more attractive than women who had lost weight and were now lean.
Researchers say that a lot of bias against overweight people occurs because weight is considered to be controllable and people who don't lose excess weight are looked upon as lazy.
"The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight-loss," said co-author Dr. Kerry O'Brien from the University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne.
"Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity," Dr. O'Brien said.
An earlier study suggested that overweight women tend to eat more high-calorie food if they watch stigmatizing video about obesity.
"The findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it may even outlast the obesity itself. Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by this prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level," said Dr. Latner.
"Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma. Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more," Dr. Latner added.
A recent study says that exposure to reality television shows like The Biggest Loser tends to result in anti-fat attitudes in people who have normal BMI and who are currently not trying to lose weight.
The present study is published in the journal Obesity.