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Obes Res. 2005 Jul;13(7):1226-31.

Stigmatized students: age, sex, and ethnicity effects in the stigmatization of obesity.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.



To assess the stigmatization of obesity relative to the stigmatization of various disabilities among young men and women. Attitudes across ethnic groups were compared. In addition, these findings were compared with data showing severe stigmatization of obesity among children.


Participants included 356 university students (56% women; mean age, 20.6 years; mean BMI, 23.3 kg/m2; range, 14.4 to 45.0 kg/m2) who ranked six drawings of same-sex peers in order of how well they liked each person. The drawings showed adults with obesity, various disabilities, or no disability. These rankings were compared with those obtained through a similar procedure with 458 fifth- and sixth-grade children.


Obesity was highly stigmatized relative to physical disabilities. African-American women liked obese peers more than did African-American men, white men, or white women [F(1,216) = 4.02, p < 0.05]. Overweight and obese participants were no less stigmatizing of obesity than normal weight participants. Adults were more accepting than children of their obese peers [t(761) = 9.16, p < 0.001].


Although the stigmatization of obesity was high among participants overall, African-American women seemed to have more positive attitudes toward obesity than did white women, white men, or African-American men. Participants' weight did not affect their stigmatization of obesity: obese and overweight adults were as highly stigmatizing of obesity as non-overweight adults. Such internalized stigmatization could help to explain the low self-esteem and poor body image among obese young adults. However, adults seemed to have more positive attitudes about obesity than children. An understanding of the factors that limit the stigma of obesity among African-American women could help efforts to reduce stigma.

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