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Weight stigma commonly felt by men, boys

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May 9, 2018

Mary Himmelstein
Mary S. Himmelstein

Approximately 40% of men report experiencing weight stigma as children or adults, often in the form of teasing, according to a study published in Obesity.

“[This] is important because it’s not really on the radar for men,” Mary S. Himmelstein, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told Endocrine Today. “When we think of weight stigma, we often think about it being more relevant to women or worse for women. This study shows men and women are reporting similar rates of stigma.”

Researchers collected data from three cohorts of men (n = 1,513; mean age 44.41 years; mean BMI 27.63 kg/m2; 57.7% white; 19.7% Hispanic or Latino; 14.3% black; 6.1% Asian; 2.1% other). The first sample (n = 36; mean age 53.78 years) included members of the OAC, a national nonprofit organization that supports individuals affected by obesity. The second sample (n = 233; mean age 37 years) consisted of individuals recruited from M-Turk, a convenience online panel. The third sample (n = 1,244; mean age 45.5 years) included men who had participated in Survey Sampling International, a national online survey panel. Men in each sample completed similar questionnaires designed to evaluate them based on demographics (age, income, education level, race/ethnicity and marital status), weight and BMI history, diet history and experiences of weight stigma. Weight stigma was defined as having been teased, treated unfairly or discriminated against because of body weight. Participants from the OAC and M-Turk samples also answered questions to assess their confidence in their ability to lose weight and maintain weight loss.

Researchers found that approximately 38% of men in the SSI sample and 44.2% of the M-Turk sample reported experiencing weight stigma; 91.7% of the OAC sample reported experiencing weight stigma. Overall, compared with men who reported no weight stigma, men who experienced weight stigma had higher current BMI, were younger (mean age 40.6 vs. 46.8 years), had lower income, had more education and were less likely to be married.

Among men who reported weight stigma, such events were more common during adolescence (58.9%) and childhood (52%) than adulthood (37.5%), with teasing or verbal mistreatment the most common form in all developmental periods. Physical mistreatment was more common among children and teens than adults. The most common perpetrators of weight stigma were peers (61%), family members (41.7%) and strangers (35.7%).

Health care professionals should examine their own biases around weight and how these biases can negatively affect their patients’ health, according to Himmelstein. One way to do this is to consider how physicians talk to patients about weight.

[Health care providers should] “ask about preferences for word choice regardless of whether they’re dealing with a male or female patient,” Himmelstein said.

“Given the high number of men who reported weight stigma in our study, it might be helpful for providers to assess psychosocial stressors, like stigma, in patients who are struggling with weight,” Himmelstein added. –by Melissa J. Webb

For more information:

Mary S. Himmelstein, PhD, can be reached at mary.himmelstein@uconn.edu.

Disclosures: The study was funded by the Rudd Foundation. The authors report no other relevant financial disclosures.