Media may be most influential for women harboring fat-stigma even though their family and close friends may not judge them "fat" according to the finding by Arizona State University social scientists, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

"Women were a bit more attuned to the views of close friends and family, but even then, they generally perceived the judgments of others inaccurately." said Daniel J. Hruschka, an ASU cultural anthropologist and co-author of the study.

Lead author of the study, Alexandra Brewis, a biological anthropologist and director of ASU's Center for Global Health, noted that while obesity is a major medical and public health challenge, the stigma attached to it also creates suffering and needs to be examined. According to the ASU findings, urging family and friends to be less judgmental may be of little assistance in alleviating the stigma.

The study interviewed 112 women aged 18-45 and 823 others in their family and social networks. The focus was to understand how and why fat-stigma influence women in everyday interactions and relationships, and to test key ideas about how perceptions of stigma are amplified or mitigated by women's relationships in their social network.

The researchers point out that culturally being fat represents a profound personal failing and moral messages attached to it include laziness, lack of self-control and being undesirable or repulsive. The authors point out that message associated with the stigma of being fat is so strong some Americans would rather die years sooner or be completely blind than be thought of as obese.

"The question this leaves us with is: 'If it isn't the opinions of friends and families that make us feel so bad about being overweight, then what does?' What seems most likely is that media and pop cultural messages are so pervasive and powerful that even the most loving support of those closest to us provides only limited protection against them," said Brewis