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Psychol Sci. 2014 Apr;25(4):997-1002. doi: 10.1177/0956797613516981. Epub 2014 Jan 24.

"Obesity is a disease": examining the self-regulatory impact of this public-health message.

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1Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond.


In the current work, we examined the impact of the American Medical Association's recent classification of obesity as a disease on weight-management processes. Across three experimental studies, we highlighted the potential hidden costs associated with labeling obesity as a disease, showing that this message, presented in an actual New York Times article, undermined beneficial weight-loss self-regulatory processes. A disease-based, relative to an information-based, weight-management message weakened the importance placed on health-focused dieting and reduced concerns about weight among obese individuals--the very people whom such public-health messages are targeting. Further, the decreased concern about weight predicted higher-calorie food choices. In addition, the disease message, relative to a message that obesity is not a disease, lowered body-image dissatisfaction, but this too predicted higher-calorie food choices. Thus, although defining obesity as a disease may be beneficial for body image, results from the current work emphasize the negative implications of this message for self-regulation.


disease; health; individual differences; mental models; obesity; public-health message; self-control; self-regulation; weight

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