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Psychosom Med. 2014 Feb;76(2):156-62. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000031. Epub 2014 Jan 16.

The stress of stigma: exploring the effect of weight stigma on cortisol reactivity.

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MS, MPhil, Department of Psychology, Yale University, 2 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520.



To determine the physiological impact of exposure to weight stigma by examining alterations in salivary cortisol among lean and overweight women.


Participants were 123 lean and overweight adult women (mean body mass index = 26.99 [7.91] kg/m(2)). Participants' salivary cortisol was assessed both before and after either a weight stigmatizing or a neutral video. Participants completed self-report measures of mood and reactions to the video. Height and weight were obtained at the conclusion of the study.


Participants in the stigmatizing condition exhibited significantly greater cortisol reactivity when compared with those in the neutral condition, irrespective of weight status (Pillai trace = 0.077; F(1,85) = 7.22, p = .009). Lean and overweight women in the stigmatizing condition were equally likely to find the video upsetting and were equally likely to report that they would rather not see obese individuals depicted in a stigmatizing manner in the media.


Exposure to weight-stigmatizing stimuli was associated with greater cortisol reactivity among lean and overweight women. These findings highlight the potentially harmful physiological consequences of exposure to weight stigma.


salivary cortisol; stress; weight stigma

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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