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

te participants' body mass index and to classify participants as "average weight" or "obese," in line with World Health Organization guidelines.

Results showed that the particular message obese participants read had a clear impact on their attitudes toward health, diet, and weight.

Specifically, obese participants who read the "obesity is a disease" article placed less importance on health-focused dieting and reported less concern for weight relative to obese participants who read the other two articles. They also chose higher-calorie options when asked to pick a sandwich from a provided menu.

Interestingly, these participants reported greater body satisfaction, which, in turn, also predicted higher-calorie food choices.

"Together, these findings suggest that the messages individuals hear about the nature of obesity have self-regulatory consequences," says Hoyt. The researchers point out that there may be benefits to the disease-focused message, such as promoting greater acceptance of diverse body sizes and reducing stigma, which may help obese individuals engage with health- and weight-related goals.

The new findings indicate, however, that there may be some hidden costs to the "obesity is a disease" message, including less motivation to eat healthy.

Hoyt and colleagues caution that more research is needed to gain a clearer understanding of both the costs and benefits of such health-related messaging before the findings can be put into practice.

"In our ongoing work, we hope to gain a greater understanding of how the 'obesity is a disease' message influences beliefs about the controllability of weight," says Hoyt. "In addition, we are also interested in investigating the role of this message in reducing stigma against the obese."

The researchers hope that their work "sparks further discussion and inquiry by researchers and practitioners alike."


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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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