Human biologists are increasingly engaging with current global trends toward obesity. However, little is considered about how variation in cultural views of “fat” might shape the biology of obesity, such as through pathways related to socially induced stress. Recent research indicates elevated levels of explicit fat-stigma in middle income nations, suggesting potentially high levels of psychosocial stress around “being fat.” We use the case of Paraguay to test if high levels of explicit prejudice around “being fat” also suggest internalization of those ideas in ways that might predict stress effects.
Using a sample of women in Paraguay (N = 200), we test if the statement of anti-fat beliefs on standard scales correlates with similarly strong level of cognitive bias against fat based on an implicit association test. We confirm reasonable comparability of the findings to prior published studies by collecting data for U.S. undergraduates (N = 66) using the same set of tools.
Women in Paraguay reveal high levels of explicit anti-fat bias in an interview on a standard (Attitudes to Obese People) scale, suggesting a shared cultural norm of fat-is-bad. However, Paraguayan women display, on average, no anti-fat stigma in cognitive testing.
In contrast to what has been observed in industrialized nations, the high levels of explicit fat-stigma does not necessarily correlate with high levels of implicit fat-stigma. This means that pathways between obesity, psychosocial stress, and health outcomes may be very different across socioecological contexts. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.