Why Mozart In Shape

Social Stigmatization of Obesity

In American and other Westernized societies there are powerful messages that people, especially women, should be thin, and that to be fat is a sign of poor self-control. Negative attitudes about the obese have been reported in children and adults.

A study of children's body image perceptions showed that girls and boys between the ages of 5 and 11 show a strong preference towards mesomorph figure - associating positive adjectives with it (best friend, quiet, kind, clean, etc.); and show unfavorable attitude towards endomorph figure - associating negative themes with it (fights, cheats, nervous, argues, dirty, stupid, etc.)

Furthermore, the study shows that children's perception of body image is related to their own body-type, with mesomorph individuals having strong positive associations to their body type, and endomorphs denying the link between their behavior and the endomorph stereotype.

Children display distinctly negative attitudes towards obese peers. The presence of legitimate medical explanations in these children does not seem to alter their peers' attitudes.

These anti-fat attitudes may begin as young as 3 years old, who view drawing of chubby children as mean, possessing negative characteristics, and as undesirable playmates. Such attitudes increase in frequency and intensity as the child grows older.

So much so, that 96% of 16 year old obese girls have passed through a stigmatizing experience, consisting of name-calling and teasing.

Children as young as 6 or 7 already understand the connection between eating and weight. A 1999 study found that boys who were teased about their weight were more likely than their peers to binge-eat without control and initiate unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

A national study of children in Grades 5 through 12 found that in 1997, 13% of girls and 7% of boys displayed some form of eating disorder. A further 2001 study found that 19% of female and 8% of male high school students had gone without eating for more than 24 hours to lose or avoid gaining weight. 13% of female and 6% of male students reported having taken diet pills, powders, or liquid without their doctors' advice to lose weight. 8% of female and 3% of male students had vomited or abused laxatives as weight control strategies.

It is highly probable that negatives attitudes toward obesity among educators are more widespread than has been documented so far. Many junior and high school health-care workers believe that obesity is primarily in the individual's control.

About half of the teachers in one study recognized biological factors as the cause for obesity. Teachers agreed that obese people are untidy (20%), more emotional (19%), less likely to succeed at work (17.5%), and more likely to have family problems (27%). 46% of teachers agreed that obese persons are undesirable marriage partners for non-obese people, and an entire 28% agreed that becoming obese is one of the worst things that could happen to a person.

This bias converts into real consequences, as obese adolescents are less often accepted into high-ranking colleges than their non-obese peers, despite equal qualifications. Sadly, these overweight adolescents also receive less financial aid from their parents in paying for college.

This bias against overweight and obesity extends further into the field of healthcare. A study of 100 3rd year medical students showed uniform negative bias towards overweight, the intensity of which increases proportionally with the degree of overweight.

Practicing physicians also exhibit these same negative attitudes - they commonly hold overweight individuals responsible for their condition and attribute their failures to lose weight to gluttony and a general lack of cooperation and discipline. This same study had physicians admit that they spend an average of 9 minutes less time with heavier patients than with thin ones.

On average, nurses take on an even more negative attitude towards obese patients. One study showed that 63% of nurses agreed that obesity can be prevented by self-control; and that obese persons are unsuccessful (24%), overindulgent (43%), lazy (22%), and experience unresolved anger (33%).

48% of nurses agreed that they felt uncomfortable caring for obese patients, and 31% would prefer not to care for an obese patient at all.

Several studies have demonstrated that such negative attitudes toward obese individuals may contribute to discrimination in the work place. 16% of interviewed employers reported that they would never hire an obese worker under any circumstances. 44% said they would hire only if they have no other choice.

Two studies explored reactions to overweight by isolating the effects of weight from other characteristics of a job-applicant. The results were clear: Overweight applicants were less highly recommended than average-weight persons, despite objectively identical performances.

Weight is an important factor in job earnings. 144 published studies over the period of 30 years have indicated a consistent finding of an inverse relation between obesity and socioeconomic status in women.

Among women, obesity is a feature characteristic of socioeconomic status in today's society. By age 6, obesity is 9 times more prevalent in lower-class girls than in those of the upper class.

Overweight and obesity have a profound effect on an individual's life conditions. After a 7-year study of over 10,000 randomly selected young people aged 16-24 years, overweight women were found to have completed less school, were 20% less likely to be married, had a lower household income ($6,710 per year less), and had 10% higher rates of household poverty. Overweight men were 11% less likely to be married. People with other chronic conditions did not differ in these ways as did overweight and obese people.

This discrimination extends further to housing. Nearly 50% of landlords would not rent to obese prospective tenants. Almost 30% of them charged obese applicants more for rent.

A study showed the college students rated embezzlers, cocaine users, shoplifters and blind people as more suitable marriage partners than obese individuals.

Attitude toward obesity seems to constitute in modern society a form of ideology rather than personal preference. The ideological basis is responsible for a very rigid belief-like attitude, shared even by the overweight themselves, in self-appraisal.

Despite the explosion of overweight and obesity in the last 30 years, the stigma against obesity is not a recent phenomenon. Historically, in Christian culture, obese persons have been seen as perpetrators, transgressing against the authority of an omnipotent God. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, ascribed Adam's eating of the apple to gluttony, which he related to the deadly sin of pride. In the 5th and 7th centuries, both Augustine and Gregory I incorporated gluttony into the Seven Deadly Sins.

Overweight has historically been associated with immoderation in eating, greediness and self-indulgence.

Despite the widespread discrimination against overweight and obese individuals, no federal laws exist to prohibit such discrimination. Despite many lawsuits, majority of courts have ruled that obesity, per se, is not a disability. Being fat is only considered a disability if it is accompanied by an additional impairment.