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Labeling obesity as a disease may have psychological costs
Date:1/28/2014

Messages that describe obesity as a disease may undermine healthy behaviors and beliefs among obese individuals, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The findings show that obese individuals exposed to such messages placed less importance on health-focused dieting and reported less concern about weight. These beliefs, in turn, predicted unhealthier food choices.

Psychological scientists Crystal Hoyt and Jeni Burnette of the University of Richmond and Lisa Auster-Gussman of the University of Minnesota were interested in exploring the effects of health and diet messaging after the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease in June 2013.

"Considering that obesity is a crucial public-health issue, a more nuanced understanding of the impact of an 'obesity is a disease' message has significant implications for patient-level and policy-level outcomes," says Hoyt. "Experts have been debating the merits of, and problems with, the AMA policy we wanted to contribute to the conversation by bringing data rather than speculation and by focusing on the psychological repercussions."

Hoyt and colleagues hypothesized that labeling obesity as a disease could encourage the belief that weight is unchangeable and make attempts at weight management seem pointless, especially among obese individuals the very people that the public-health messages are targeting.

The researchers recruited over 700 participants to take part in an online survey across three different studies. Participants read an article related to health and weight and then answered various questions. Importantly, some participants read an article that described obesity as a disease, some read a standard public-health message about weight, and others read an article specifically stating that obesity is not a disease.

Height and weight data were used to calcula
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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