The National Institutes of Health is spending over $150,000 on a study that aims to fight fat shaming.
The project, being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, aims to reduce "weight stigma," which the researchers contend leads obese people to eat more.
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"In a randomized controlled trial, I will test the effects on long-term weight loss of a novel clinical intervention designed to help individuals with obesity cope with weight stigma, combined with standard behavioral weight loss," according to the grant, which was awarded to Rebecca Pearl, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "I believe that reducing WBI [weight bias internalization] will improve long-term weight loss by increasing physical activity, a behavior consistently associated with greater long-term weight loss."
"The proposed research project could have significant clinical implications for enhancing the treatment of obesity and reducing the negative effects of weight stigma," the grant states.
The project claims that weight-based stigma, or negative attitudes toward obese people, causes obese people to continue to be obese.
"Weight-based stigma may contribute to weight gain and poor physical health in persons with obesity," the grant states. "The proposed study seeks to improve long-term weight loss, as well as cardiometabolic and psychosocial health, by combining a behavioral weight loss intervention with a novel cognitive-behavioral intervention designed to alleviate weight-based stigma and its ill effects on health-promoting behaviors (e.g., physical activity)."
The project was awarded in mid-December and has received $167,045 so far. Research is scheduled to continue through 2022.
Pearl, the lead researcher on the project, primarily studies weight stigma and "strategies to reduce weight-biased attitudes."
"Dr. Pearl is currently investigating psychosocial risk factors and health outcomes associated with weight bias internalization, and potential interventions to decrease self-stigma among individuals with obesity," the university states.
Pearl published a study in January 2017 that found fat shaming was "linked to greater health risks," according to ScienceDaily.
"Body shaming is a pervasive form of prejudice, found in cyber bullying, critiques of celebrities' appearances, at work and school, and in public places for everyday Americans," the news site states. "People who are battling obesity face being stereotyped as lazy, incompetent, unattractive, lacking willpower, and to blame for their excess weight. The pain of these messages may take a toll on health and increase risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease, according to a new study published in Obesity, the journal of The Obesity Society, led by a research team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania."
"There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health," Pearl told the website. "We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress."
"In this study, we identified a significant relationship between the internalization of weight bias and having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which is a marker of poor health," she said.
Another study cowritten by Pearl in 2012 argued for more "positive media portrayals of obese individuals" in television and film.
Pearl also published a study entitled, "Experiencing weight bias in an unjust world."
The 2015 study found, "Threats to belief in a just world may lead to negative outcomes for health behaviors and psychological well-being among individuals who have experienced weight bias and perceive it to be pervasive."