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Once-Obese Women Still Face Stigma, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, May 30 (HealthDay News) -- Even after they shed their excess pounds, formerly obese women still have to contend with "anti-fat prejudice," according to a new study.

Researchers asked young women and men to read about women who had either lost 70 pounds of excess weight or had stayed the same weight (weight-stable), and who were either currently obese or currently thin.

The participants were then asked about some of the women's attributes, including their attractiveness.

"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," study leader Janet Latner, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a news release from the University of Manchester, in England. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."

The participants also showed greater bias against obese people after they had read about women who had lost weight, compared to after reading about weight-stable women -- regardless of whether the weight-stable women were thin or obese.

The findings, published May 29 in the journal Obesity, suggest that the stigma of obesity is so powerful that it can continue even after an obese person has lost weight.

The researchers said they were particularly troubled by the finding that participants' negative attitudes towards obese people increased when they were falsely told that body weight is easily controlled.

"The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight loss," study co-author Kerry O'Brien, from the University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, in Australia, noted in the news release.

"Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity," O'Brien noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers advice about choosing a safe and effective weight-loss program.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Manchester, news release, May 29, 2012

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