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Keywords:

  • stigma;
  • weight bias;
  • implicit attitudes;
  • explicit attitudes;
  • stereotypes

Abstract

Objective: This study examined the influence of one's own body weight on the strength of implicit and explicit anti-fat bias.

Research Methods and Procedure: Implicit and explicit anti-fat attitudes and obesity stereotypes were assessed among a large online sample (N = 4283) that included representation from across the weight spectrum (from underweight to extremely obese). Respondents also indicated their willingness to make a range of personal sacrifices in exchange for not being obese.

Results: All weight groups exhibited significant anti-fat bias, but there was an inverse relation between one's own weight and the level of observed bias. Thinner people were more likely to automatically associate negative attributes (bad, lazy) with fat people, to prefer thin people to fat people, and to explicitly rate fat people as lazier and less motivated than thin people. However, when the lazy stereotype was contrasted with another negative attribute (anxious), obese and non-obese people exhibited equally strong implicit stereotyping. Finally, a substantial proportion of respondents indicated a willingness to endure aversive life events to avoid being obese. For example, 46% of the total sample indicated that they would rather give up 1 year of life than be obese, and 30% reported that they would rather be divorced than be obese. In each case, thinner people were more willing to sacrifice aspects of their health or life circumstances than were heavier people.

Discussion: Although the strength of weight bias decreased as respondents’ body weight increased, a significant degree of anti-fat bias was still evident among even the most obese group of respondents, highlighting the pervasiveness of this bias.