Obesity Stigmatization

A couple weeks, I engaged in a little kerfuffle over the role of personal responsibility in diet and health.

There I wrote:

But, didn't Moss just spend the preceding ~300 pages trying to convince us that our food choices are out of our control - that we are "hooked" - and that we are little match for the teams of scientists and advertisers employed by Big Food?  The implicit implication seems to be that consumers need a more powerful third party - the government - to constrain Big Food - because these are matters beyond our control.  

That's a story of helplessness - of victimization.  And whether they mean it nor not, narratives such as this can be demotivating.

To advocate people take personal responsibility for their food choices - as I have - is a message of empowerment.

Parke is right that some of the "food police" also encourage (and practice) personal responsibility, but I contend that much of their writing and their policy advocacy undermines their own message.

Today, I ran across an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  that provides empirical evidence related to the phenomenon I mentioned.  The abstract:

America's war on obesity has intensified stigmatization of overweight and obese individuals. This experiment tested the prediction that exposure to weight-stigmatizing messages threatens the social identity of individuals who perceive themselves as overweight, depleting executive resources necessary for exercising self-control when presented with high calorie food. Women were randomly assigned to read a news article about stigma faced by overweight individuals in the job market or a control article. Exposure to weight-stigmatizing news articles caused self-perceived overweight women, but not women who did not perceive themselves as overweight, to consume more calories and feel less capable of controlling their eating than exposure to non-stigmatizing articles. Weight-stigmatizing articles also increased concerns about being a target of stigma among both self-perceived overweight and non-overweight women. Findings suggest that social messages targeted at combating obesity may have paradoxical and undesired effects.