I recently came across this editorial discussing a subject very close to my heart.  It’s called “Obesity Bias in the Gym: An Under-recognized Social Justice, Diversity, and Inclusivity Issue”.  The article starts out by defining obesity bias this way:

“the tendency to negatively judge an overweight or obese individual based on assumed and/or false character traits. The bias that exists is not based on health risks associated with obesity, but is attributed to personality flaws such as being lazy or stupid. (p. 67)”


And it gets right down to the business of discussing the harms of this bias citing an increased vulnerability to problems like depression,  low self-esteem, disordered eating, body image problems and avoiding exercise altogether.

The editorial sums up a lot of the important research that has been done on this topic over the last decade.  The article is very rich and dense and I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing.  But as I’ve been doing with some other research lately, I thought I would entice you with a summary of 10 important points to be found in the article:

1.  The article cites a study by Chambliss, Finley and Blair comparing fat bias among 180 first-year and third year physical education students with 164 first year and third year psychology students.  Not surprisingly the phys. ed students showed higher levels of fat bias than the psychology students.  What is more disturbing is that third year phys. ed. students had higher levels of bias than first year students–suggesting that implicit fat bias got worse as these students progressed in their education.

2.  The article cites a study by Dimmock, Hallet and Grove that found that personal trainers had an unconscious preference for working with thin clients rather than fat ones.

3.  The article also references a study by Shapiro, King and Quinones indicating that trainers expected less of their fat clients, expected them to have a lower work ethic and to have poorer performance, and also indicated that these trainers received poorer ratings from their fat clients (who may have picked up on these negative vibes).

4.  The article discusses a study of weight-based teasing of 11 to 19 year-old students.  The study indicated that teachers were aware of the teasing 55 percent of the time, but at times ignored or even joined in the taunting.

5.  In a study by Vartanian and Novack, 97 percent of the adult participants  had experienced some weight stigma, and nearly half experienced weight stigma at least once per week.  One of the common results of this stigma was exercise avoidance.

6.  The editorial discusses that weight stigma in physical education environments is often seen as socially acceptable and is internalized and reenforced by fat people in their own lives.

7.  The importance of understanding and lecturing about weight bias in the training of physical educators was discussed.  However while changes in explicit anti-fat sentiments were observed, there was little change in the implicit biases phys. ed. students felt towards fat people.

8.  The editorial notes that physical activity seems to be a more important predictor of health outcomes than body size and notes that fit and fat seems to be healthier than unfit and thin.

9.  Thus the editorial discusses the need for physical activity for people of all shapes and sizes and,

10.  The editorial reenforced the need to educate the educators and insist that we create safe and welcoming spaces for people of all sizes to engage in physical activity.


Wow.  It really gets my blood moving and reenforces in me the need to fight for physically and emotionally safe spaces where folks of all sizes can exercise.

And if you are feeling revved up as well, I’d like to remind you that the Fat Activism Conference is less than 10 days away.  Join us to hear over 40 speakers talk about making the world a better and safer place for every BODY.


Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  And don’t forget to join my mailing list for lots of free stuff!

4 Comments. Leave new

  • Sadly, I’m not surprised by any of this. I’m an ACE-certified personal trainer, and I’m fat. I’m actually attending an ACE webinar next week called “Size Sensitivity and Other Strategies for Overweight and Obese Clients.” I can’t wait to hear what is said! (And god forbid they just say “fat clients.”)

    • It sounds like an interesting webinar. I’ve been thinking about personal training certification like ACE, but as a fat and disabled person, I’ve been concerned about being treated poorly by other folks pursuing the certification.

  • Thank you for sharing this information. It is eye-opening and important. I do have a question for you, what exactly is fat activism? Being an active obese person myself, I am curious what the movement stands for and what its core values are. I personally could not condone being obese or overweight nor would I advocate for it. I would, however, condone or advocate for people of all sizes, shapes, health levels and activity levels to engage in healthful, holistic activities, dietary choices, healing, personal growth, self-acceptance, and self-exploration. Fat activism to me sounds like a line drawn in the sand protecting and defending being fat or obese as okay. On one level, of course it is okay, we all should have the freedom to be how we need to be in any given moment. We should not be punished or shamed for protecting ourselves or loving ourselves the best way we know how to. On the other hand, I refuse to believe this is an ideal coping mechanism, nor the most beneficial way to channel our energies. If it is a conscious choice, that too is another matter, more power to a person who clearly, authentically wants to be in a big body. I feel like most of us who struggle with weight, however, want something different. Anyways, it would be very helpful and illuminating to know what fat activism is and how it relates to the issues I have mentioned. Thanks!

    • Fat Activism simply means that fat people should be treated with the same rights, respect, accessibility, and freedoms as people of any other size. It means nobody gets to dictate what size you should be. No employer gets to force you to wear a pedometer or join a weight loss club. Nobody gets to take things out of your shopping cart at the store. Your doctor doesn’t get to ignore the issues that you came to talk about by simply giving you a typed out diet sheet and asking you to come back when you lose 50 pounds. The reality is that people of all sizes can be healthy. However you are under no obligation, moral or otherwise to be healthy or to engage in behaviors that may or may not lead to better health. I think that many people who struggle with weight want something different. But I think it’s important to understand how much weight stigma, fat shaming and other societal pressures have an impact on that wanting something different. And I think it is also important to acknowledge that over the long term, the vast majority of all weight loss attempts fail. And despite the weight loss industry’s constant efforts to get us to believe that we fail at weight loss because we’re not doing it hard enough or doing it right, the reality is we don’t really know why weight loss attempts fail (over the long haul) the vast majority of the time. We have a lot of theories and many of them are being studied. However you slice it, there is not a single properly managed study that shows any but a very small percentage (less than 15 percent) of people trying to lose weight who keep it off for more than a year or two. And many of those who keep weight off for more than a year or two are only keeping off a few pounds (less than 10). The vast majority of people who try to lose weight, gain it all back. And a significant percentage of those people end up fatter than they started. If people wish to devote themselves to losing weight, that is their decision. Their body, their choice. However, I think it is a good idea to help people understand the truth about the effectiveness of various weight loss methods.

      That said, there is lots of evidence that healthy behavior is a much better predictor of future health outcomes than body weight. So it seems prudent to focus on behavior rather then weight in our attempts to help those who wish to focus on greater health. As long as we understand that everybody at EVERY size gets to decide for themselves how much energy and attention they wish to devote to these behaviors and how they wish to prioritize the elements of their own lives.

      As an exercise instructor, I don’t believe it’s my job to tell people that they have to exercise. I simply share the truth about the benefits of exercise, and make sincere efforts to ensure that there are fun, accessible and safe places for people of all sizes to do that exercise if they decide that they want to.

      There are entire books and manuals that have been written on this subject. But I hope I have given you a little taste of the fat activism movement as I understand it.


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