New research shows that two fifths of overweight people experience some form of judgement, criticism or humiliation at least once-a-week.
People who are overweight are frequently insulted by shop assistants, ignored by bar staff, left out by friends, mocked by passers-by, ridiculed by the opposite sex and photographed by teenagers as part of a widespread culture of discrimination that not only causes people to feel depressed and ashamed, but can lead to comfort eating, causing a vicious cycle. A study of 2,573 people who have lost weight reveals the extent to which people are treated differently depending purely on their size. In modern times we do not discriminate against people due to race or gender, but why do we still let it happen when it is associated with a person’s weight?
Professor James Stubbs, Chair of Behaviour Change and Weight Management at the University of Derby and Senior Research Specialist for Slimming World is calling for more understanding and sympathy for overweight people to prevent the cycle of shame and weight gain that undermines many weight loss attempts. 29 year old Sam Akerman also tells us about her amazing weight loss journey and how discrimination led to her gaining weight before she went on to lose more than 6 stone due to health reasons.
At their heaviest, people suffered humiliations such as young people winding their car window down to shout abuse, fellow passengers refusing to share a seat on public transport, groups of men in nightclubs feigning romantic interest and teenagers taking pictures or videos on their smartphone. As customers, some faced rude comments on their food choices from supermarket staff, laughter from shop assistants when they asked for clothes in a bigger size and feeling humiliated as bar staff served slimmer customers that were standing behind them first. The results showed that on average, 40 per cent of overweight people experience some form of judgement, criticism or humiliation at least once-a-week.
The survey from Slimming World found that weight discrimination does not motivate people to lose weight. Instead, incidents of discrimination left recipients feeling ashamed (47 per cent), depressed (41 per cent) and useless (30 per cent), with the majority (65 per cent) turning to food for comfort and only a tiny minority (two per cent) making long-term healthy changes as a result. Two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) reported gaining weight over time since they were first treated unkindly because of their size. This suggests that rather than motivating people who are struggling with their weight, discrimination and stigma actually make things worse.
Respondents said that since losing weight they were now more likely to be acknowledged by strangers with a smile (61 per cent), eye contact (54 per cent), a compliment (49 per cent), a hello (43 per cent) and a conversation (41 per cent). They also reported getting served for drinks much more quickly in bars now that they had lost weight, typically taking only three minutes to get served compared to an average of nine minutes when they were at their heaviest.