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Today, I got an email pointing me towards some new research on fat stigma. There has been an ever increasing pile of evidence indicating that weight stigma is making us miserable and sick. We know that weight stigma makes us fatter, increases inflammation, increases disease burden and decreases quality of life, increases the chances that we will engage in risky behaviors and may contribute significantly to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We know that weight-based discrimination increases blood pressure and reduces our ability to think clearly. Now we have further proof that weight stigma is shortening our lives.
It has always been supremely frustrating to me that concern trolls are so ready to tell us that they beat us up about our weight because they are concerned for our health. But as a person who has been on the end of concern trolling, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel anything at all like genuine concern. It feels like people relishing the fact they have an excuse to be a bully. It feels like having a license that allows some people to spew hate under the micron-thick veneer of caring. It feels like complete B.S.
And this new study indicates that the results of this hate can be profound and life-threatening. The study states:
The ultimate cumulative effect of these hostile social interactions may be lower life expectancy. The present research examined whether the harmful effect of weight discrimination reached beyond morbidity to mortality and whether common comorbidities and health-risk behaviors accounted for this association. We also compared weight discrimination with other forms of discrimination (e.g., age, race, sex) to examine whether they share weight discrimination’s association with mortality risk. Finally, we examined whether the association between discrimination and mortality varied by sex, ethnicity, age, or body mass index (BMI). We tested these associations using data from two large longitudinal studies, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and Midlife in the United States (MIDUS).
After reviewing the data from both the HRS and the MIDUS, the study group came to some rather startling conclusions. It appears that weight stigma can increase risk of mortality by a significant amount:
Weight discrimination was associated with an increase in mortality risk of nearly 60% in both HRS participants (hazard ratio = 1.57, 95% confidence interval = [1.34, 1.84]) and MIDUS participants (hazard ratio = 1.59, 95% confidence interval = [1.09, 2.31]). This increased risk was not accounted for by common physical and psychological risk factors. The association between mortality and weight discrimination was generally stronger than that between mortality and other attributions for discrimination. In addition to its association with poor health outcomes, weight discrimination may shorten life expectancy.
If people are truly worried about the health of fat people, they are going to have to give up on concern trolling. Outside of the fact that you can’t hate someone for their own good (thank you Marilyn Wann), there is hard statistical evidence that it just may be your hate that is making fat people sick and giving them a shorter life. Not to mention the horrible effect you have on their quality of life. The study goes so far as to suggest that the harm of weight discrimination may be more harmful than any other effects of being overweight:
The present findings indicate that the harmful effect of unfair treatment that is attributable to body weight is not limited to psychological distress and morbidity: It also extends to risk of mortality. This association was apparent in two independent samples that covered different periods of the life span, and the association persisted after we accounted for behavioral and clinical risk factors. The effect of weight discrimination on mortality was generally stronger than that of other forms of discrimination but was comparable with that of other established risk factors, such as smoking history and disease burden. Moreover, the association between weight discrimination and mortality risk was in sharp contrast to the protective relation between some of the BMI categories and mortality risk. These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight is more harmful than actually being overweight.
This type of research can have a profound effect on the lives of fat people around the world. But just because it can doesn’t mean in necessarily will. The media doesn’t jump to report these stories. For many reasons, these articles aren’t popular with media outlets and are especially unpopular with advertisers. If we want these studies to have an impact, we have to make sure that people in the world at large know about them. We need activists.
That’s why I’m so excited that the Fat Activism Conference is starting tomorrow. It’s not too late to get your tickets. We have dozens of amazing speakers lined up ready to share ways that you can be an activist and an advocate for people of all sizes. We’ve got speakers talking about activism and medicine and activism and art and activism and sex and many other topics. I hope you’ll consider joining us for the conference. This study indicates that activism against weight stigma may do more than just make us feel better and feel better about ourselves. It just might help to save our lives.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)