Overweight Girls Who Internalize Fat Stereotypes Report Low Psychosocial Well-being

Authors

  • Kirsten K. Davison,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Health Policy, Management, and Behavior, University at Albany (State University of New York), Albany, New York, USA
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  • Dorothy L. Schmalz,

    1. Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA
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  • Laurie M. Young,

    1. Department of Health Policy, Management, and Behavior, University at Albany (State University of New York), Albany, New York, USA
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  • Leann L. Birch

    1. Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Center for Research on Childhood Obesity, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA
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(kdavison@albany.edu)

Abstract

Objective: This study examines developmental change and intraindividual stability in girls' fat stereotypes and associations between girls' internalization of stereotypes and their psychosocial well-being.

Methods and Procedures: Participants included 163 non-Hispanic white girls. Girls' fat stereotypes were assessed at ages 9 and 11 years and their height and weight and all measures of psychosocial well-being, including global self-worth, perceived physical appearance, and maladaptive eating attitudes, were assessed at ages 9, 11, and 13 years. Change in girls' fat stereotypes between ages 9 and 11 was assessed using Repeated Measures ANOVA. Intraindividual stability in stereotypes was assessed using Spearman rank correlation analysis. Planned comparisons were used to test the hypothesis that overweight girls who internalize fat stereotypes are at heightened risk of poor psychosocial well-being.

Results: Girls' fat stereotypes decreased significantly between ages 9 and 11. Moderate intraindividual stability was observed in overweight girls', but not nonoverweight girls', reported stereotypes. As predicted, overweight girls who reported high fat stereotypes reported significantly lower psychosocial well-being than all other girls in the sample, independent of their weight status.

Discussion: Findings suggest that overweight girls may be particularly sensitive to weight-based stereotypes and may experience poor psychosocial well-being when they internalize stereotypes. Health practitioners working with overweight girls need to be aware of girls' sensitivity to weight-based stereotypes and should actively work against condoning and reinforcing such stereotypes.

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