One-off comments could add up to big health consequences, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that overweight women who internalized negative messages about their body size had a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes compared to women who felt more positively about their body size.
Researchers surveyed a group of 159 obese adults, asking them whether they agreed with positive and negative statements about their bodies. Known as the Weight Bias Internalization scale, this method is a widely used way of determining self-directed weight stigma. The survey included statements like “Because of my weight, I don't understand how anyone attractive would want to date me," and “I hate myself for being overweight.”
Next, researchers analyzed how these scores compared to participants' blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholesterol level and other health markers to assess their risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Researchers deduced that people who scored high on the WBI scale were three times more likely to be at risk for metabolic syndrome (heart disease) and six times a risk for having high triglycerides (associated with high cholesterol) compared to participants who scored low on the WBI scale.
"Weight bias is pervasive form of prejudice in our society," Rebecca Pearl, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a lead author of the study, said in an email. "We are constantly exposed to messages of blame and shame regarding weight. As a psychologist, I have seen how these messages can become internalized by patients who are struggling with weight management."
Previous studies have established that weight stigma is bad for mental and physical health because it's associated with binge eating and reduced physical activity. However, "this was the first study to show that weight bias internalization was associated with poor cardiometabolic health," Pearl said.
Another study, also published in Obesity, revealed that college-age women who experienced weight bias had higher levels of cortisol than women who did not perceive weight bias, Mic previously reported. The body secretes the hormone cortisol when stressed, and an imbalance of this hormone can lead to overeating or binge eating.
Pearl and her colleagues continue to research who is "most vulnerable to internalizing weight bias" and what types of interventions could help decrease weight bias internalization, she noted.
Based on evidence from a previous study about weight bias internalization in kids, experts suggested parents refrain from making comments on children's weight, the New York Times reported.
While there's no online website or resource for people to try out the WBI scale used in the study, Pearl said people interested in what implicit biases they hold against overweight people can take the weight version of the Implicit Association Test.
?an important new year reminder from queen @bodyposipanda #rg?"Here is a tally of all the diet culture bullshit I've encountered today: 2 TV adverts for ultimate beach body workouts, 3 radio adverts for weight loss groups, 1 email about January detox sales, 1 overheard conversation about goal weights, and countless articles on social media about toning up, slimming down and GETTING YOUR BEST BODY YET! ... Obsessing over every calorie and using exercise as punishment for what you've eaten isn't 'getting healthy,' it's orthorexia. And spending your life chasing YOUR BEST BODY YET won't make you happy. Trust me, it's an illusion. If you do choose to buy into messages we're bombarded with every New Year, here's what you CAN count on: A disordered relationship with food, shattered self esteem, wasted years chasing empty numbers and soaring profits of the diet industry at the heart of all our body hatred. The only diet or detox you need to start is this one. Because you have already wasted far too long buying into the bullshit and waging war against your body. New year, same you, more bopo."