How not to encourage weight loss

The next time you tell someone they need to shed a few kilos for ‘the good of their own health’ bear in mind that you may have the opposite effect. A study of 3000 British adults over a four-year period found that the five per cent who were subjected to weight discrimination or ‘fat-shaming’ actually gained an average of 0.95kg, while those who didn’t lost an average of 0.71kg.

The results of the study undertaken by researchers at the University College London (UCL) are part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a study of adults aged 50 or older, with 2944 participants. The range of the five per cent who had experienced weight discrimination spanned from 1 per cent of those classed as being normal weight, to 36 per cent who were classified as being morbidly obese, with men and women reporting similar levels of weight discrimination.

“There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight,” says lead author Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health). “Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain.”

She also reported that previous studies had found that people who had been subjected to fat-shaming actually sought comfort in food, particularly unhealthy, calorie-laden varieties.

Senior author of the study, Professor Jane Wardle says even doctors should be careful how they react to overweight patients, “Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution. Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”


Have you been subject to weight discrimination? If so, did it make you reach for high-calorie treats? Or have you been guilty of judging and commenting on someone’s weight?

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