Judgmental attitudes toward overweight Americans may exacerbate a person's problem rather than help to motivate.

Independent of other forms of discrimination based on age, sex, race-ethnicity, or education, so-called "weightism" is associated with a heightened increase for obesity, investigators from the Florida State University College of Medicine found.

Participants were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a national long-term survey of Americans, and included more than 6,100 participants.

Angelina Sutin and Antonio Terracciano compared the basics of body mass index, height and weight, of more than 6,000 study participants, who were measured in 2006 and 2010. Those who said initially that they experience weight discrimination — thoughtless comments, judgmental looks, and other perceived slights — were 2.5 times more likely to become obese during the next several years. Those who were already obese were more likely to remain that way when faced with perceptions of weight discrimination.

Rather than feeling motivated, taunting and teasing, real or imaginary to whatever degree, made them give up.

Reported perceptions about discrimination over other things, such as sex or race, did not correlate with weight. The findings led the researchers to conclude that "weightism" comprises more than a mere mental health component.

"In addition to the well-known emotional and economic costs, our results suggest that weight discrimination also increases risk of obesity," Sutin said. "This could lead to a vicious cycle where individuals who are overweight and obese are more vulnerable to weight discrimination, and this discrimination may contribute to subsequent obesity and difficulties with weight management."

Such weight discrimination remains prevalent in U.S. society even though most Americans are overweight and a third obese, a rate that is rising. The link between hefty weight has long been known to mental health and even a person's wealth, but researchers have gleaned less about the long-term implications of weight discrimination on obesity.

'Weightism' Remains Last Politically Correct Form Of Discrimination

In another study, led by Yale University clinical psychologist Rebecca Puhl, investigators found that weight-based discrimination had accelerated through 2006, as a smaller demographic of Americans become fitter. Puhl said that even as U.S. society moves from discrimination based on race, sex, and other characteristics of demography, fatness remains a last bastion of politically correct opprobrium.

"We send a message to citizens in our culture that this is something that is tolerated," Puhl told media. "We live in a culture where we obviously place a premium on fitness, and fitness has come to symbolize very important values in our culture, like hard work and discipline and ambition. Unfortunately, if a person is not thin, or is overweight or obese, then they must lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, et cetera, and as a result they get blamed and stigmatized."

Although 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, only Michigan has expressly outlawed discrimination based on weight — which makes sense given the state ties South Dakota as the 10th heaviest state in a country second now only to Mexico.

However, some Americans have sued under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 when weight standards have been applied differently to various protected classes, such as women and men, African Americans and whites. And although a number of claimants have also sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in cases where their weight was considered a physical disability, no other state or federal laws provides legal protect solely for being overweight.

Source: Terracciano, A., Sutin, A.R. Perceived Weight Discrimination And Obesity. PLoS ONE. 2013.