• Fat-shaming has both physical and psychological impacts on obese people
  • A new survey found that fat-shaming has been declining among Americans
  • Americans now believe that obesity could be a medical condition rather than a matter of choice

Apart from having to deal with the health consequences of carrying extra body weight, overweight individuals also suffer from the social stigma of obesity that tags along. But a recent survey has some good news for Americans. Compared to three years ago, Americans are now less likely to blame or weight shame obese people for their condition compared to the British.

Americans have started to believe that the complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat might have a medical explanation.

The results of two online surveys which involved over 6,000 adults in the U.S. and the U.K. are being presented at The European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO). This year, the meeting is being conducted online from 1-4 September.

The findings pointed out that the attitude among people living in the U.K. has remained unchanged with nearly one in three adults believing that an obese individual was completely responsible for the condition and despising the idea that it could be a medical problem and not a matter of choice. The researchers believe that their findings emphasized the importance of initiatives aimed at combating societal weight bias and the social stigma associated with obesity.

"Weight bias causes both physical and psychological harm to people with obesity. It is an important barrier to progress in reducing its health impact. While attitudes appear to be improving in the USA, our study finds that blaming people for their weight is still commonplace in both countries, said Ted Kyle from ConscienHealth, an advocacy organization in the USA.

Studies have previously pointed out that explicit weight bias was more common in the U.K. compared to eight other countries including the U.S. and that harsh British attitude toward obesity and fat-shaming hampered people’s efforts to tackle the obesity epidemic.

In the new research, the experts analyzed the responses received from more than 6,000 American and British adults who took an anonymous Google survey in November 2017 and May 2020 pertaining to the causes of obesity. The survey included opinionated questions on different statements such as:

  • Obesity is the fault of the person with the condition
  • It is not one’s fault if they were obese
  • Obesity is a problem because people with the condition are blamed for the disease instead of being helped

The survey participants were asked to convey their opinion on these statements using a five-point scale -- strongly agree to strongly disagree.

The Survey results revealed the following:

  • Significantly more number of American respondents agreed that obesity was a problem because they were blamed for the condition instead of receiving medical help
  • Among the Brits, the agreement with the statement remained unchanged in both 2017 and 2020. About 1 in 3 Brits blame people with obesity for their condition and didn't consider obesity as a medical problem
  • More Americans than Brits now view obesity as a medical problem

"If someone has excess weight, there may be numerous factors at work, meaning it's not due to poor discipline or willpower. We'd like to see public policy experts, health professionals, and the media look at these findings, step back, and work on ways to challenge and change public perception of obesity. Maybe that's through public education campaigns or strong policies to prevent weight-based discrimination," said Joe Nadglowski from the Obesity Action Coalition in the USA who co-authored the research.

The owner of Dr. Chris Harrison Chiropractic in Birmingham, Alabama, says he refuses to hire overweight employees. In this photo illustration, a man eats a hamburger and chips in a cafe in Glasgow, Scotland, June 7, 2006. Getty Images/ Jeff J Mitchell