Confronting and Coping with Weight Stigma: An Investigation of Overweight and Obese Adults


Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards Street, New Haven, CT 06520-8369. E-mail:


Objective: This study examined experiences of weight stigmatization, sources of stigma, coping strategies, psychological functioning, and eating behaviors in a sample of 2671 overweight and obese adults.

Research Methods and Procedures: The total sample was partitioned into two subsamples for investigation. Sample I was comprised of 2449 adult women, and Sample II was a matched sample of adult men and women (N = 222) that was disaggregated to investigate gender differences. Both samples completed an online battery of self-report questionnaires measuring frequency of weight stigmatization and coping responses to deal with bias, the most common sources of the bias, symptoms of depression, self-esteem, attitudes about weight and obesity, and binge eating behaviors.

Results: Experiences of weight stigmatization, in many forms and across multiple occasions, was common in both samples. A variety of coping strategies were used in response. More frequent exposure to stigma was related to more attempts to cope and higher BMI. Physicians and family members were the most frequent sources of weight bias reported. No gender differences were observed in types or frequency of stigmatization. Frequency of stigmatization was not related to current psychological functioning, although coping responses were associated with emotional well-being.

Discussion: These findings raise questions about the relationship between stigma and psychological functioning and have important implications for obesity treatment and stigma reduction intervention efforts, both of which are discussed.