For Men, Weight Stigma Comes with Harmful Health Consequences

(World Obesity Federation Photo)
(World Obesity Federation Photo)

Weight stigma is compromising the health of men in many of the same ways it does women, says the latest research from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

The new study of nearly 2,000 men found those who experienced weight stigma had increased odds of engaging in binge eating and had lower self-rated health.

While a significant percentage of men — as much as 40% — say they have experienced weight stigma, they have received far less attention in research as compared to women. But, weight stigma is pervasive against people with obesity, and can contribute to both physical and emotional health problems for those who experience it.

“It’s often assumed that conversations about weight loss, poor body image, and dieting are more salient for women,” says Mary Himmelstein, postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study. “Men are frequently overlooked, but that does not necessarily mean that men are less affected by weight stigma or less likely to internalize negative biases.”

The study, published in the journal Obesity, involved two groups of men: 1,249 men from a diverse national survey panel, and 504 men from an online data collection service. Both groups completed identical surveys about their experiences of weight-based stigma, how much they internalized these experiences (e.g., blamed themselves), as well as their psychological well-being and health behaviors.

Researchers found that both experienced and internalized weight stigma were associated with more depressive symptoms and more dieting behaviors in men.

These findings suggest the need for increased attention to men not only in research on links between weight stigma and health, but also among health professionals treating men for various health conditions, in which weight stigma may play a contributing role, says Himmelstein.

In particular, it may be useful for health care providers to ask men about weight stigma to help identify those who may be vulnerable to depression or disordered eating behaviors, which are underdiagnosed in men, she adds.

“Weight stigma is not a gendered issue. It can affect men’s health in the same damaging ways in which we already know that it harms women’s health, and neglecting these issues in men, either in research or clinical practice, may put them at a serious disadvantage in treatment,” says Himmelstein. “Opportunities for supportive interventions should be available for men, women, and non-binary individuals alike to help them cope with weight stigma in less harmful ways.”