Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Guest Post: What Happens to Weight Bias when Obesity is Named a Disease?

Source: Obesity Canada's Image Bank
Today's guest post is a group one coming from Sarah Nutter and Shelly Russell-Mayhew from the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education, and Cara C. MacInnis from the University of Calgary, Department of Psychology. It's a post detailing their recent study on the impact labeling obesity as a chronic disease has on weight bias.
In the years leading up the declaration of obesity as a chronic disease, much debate surrounded the possible impact that the label of ‘disease’ would have on weight bias in the general public. Opinions at the time were strongly divided, and remain so today. Our research team (also comprised of JH Ellard from the University of Calgary and Dr. AS Alberga from Concordia University) found one research study investigating the impact of labeling obesity a disease on weight bias, conducted by Hoyt and colleagues. We set out to extend this research by examining a number of different factors that we felt important when considering the impact that declaring obesity a disease would have on weight bias attitudes.

Most notably, we examined the impact that the declaration of obesity as a disease had on emotions towards people living with obesity. In addition, we were curious about how the degree to which people believe that the world is a place where people get what they deserve (i.e., good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people) might affect weight bias when obesity was declared a disease. Finally, we wondered how participants’ satisfaction with their own body weight might influence how this labeling was perceived in terms of weight bias scores.

Residents of either Canada or the U.S. (n=309) read one of three articles. The first two articles were identical in content, providing factual information about obesity; The only difference between these two articles was the description of obesity as a disease versus not a disease. The third article was unrelated to obesity.

Respondents that read the article stating that obesity is a disease had more positive emotions towards individuals with obesity compared to respondents who read either of the other two articles. This increase in positive emotion then contributed to less negative attitudes (weight bias) towards people with obesity. We also found that, for respondents who strongly believed that the world is a place where people get what they deserve, reading the obesity is a disease article (vs. the others) was related to less blame towards individuals with obesity, which in turn predicted less weight bias. Finally, among respondents who were the most satisfied with their body weight, reading the obesity is a disease article (vs. the others) was also associated with lower blame towards individuals with obesity.

Our finding that reading about obesity as a disease had an impact on the emotions of our respondents is particularly noteworthy.

In research related to other stigmatized conditions, the promotion of a genetic explanation for a condition has been associated with more negative reactions. The findings from this study suggest that understanding obesity as a disease has a positive impact on emotions, which then has a positive impact on overall attitudes towards people living with obesity. Findings from this study also support the idea that reducing blame might be an avenue to reduce weight bias attitudes. This provides interesting directions for future research, which could examine other factors that increase positive emotions or reduce blame towards people with obesity. Labelling obesity a disease seems to be related to less weight bias for individuals who hold strong beliefs about people getting what they deserve and who are satisfied with their own body weight at least in terms of reducing blame. Future research should aim to understand why this seems to be the case.

Bookmark and Share