Once fat, always fat? Investigating the existence of residual obesity stigma.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Recent research suggests that obesity-related stigma is so pervasive, that despite an obese individual losing weight and attaining a seemingly “healthy-weight”, the individual continues to be stigmatised. Previous studies claim that merely being informed a person was formerly obese results in negative reactions and a continuation of the same stigma the individual faced when they were obese. This phenomenon, labelled “residual stigma”, is surprising, as one would expect obesity stigma to dissipate once an individual can no longer be identified as obese. Residual obesity stigma is a relatively new concept, and previous research on the topic has largely relied on undergraduate female participants and only examined such a bias against female targets. The current study is a high powered conceptual replication of the original work (N > 600) with a more diverse online sample examining this potential bias against both male and female targets. Participants were randomly assigned to read a vignette and view an image of the target individual described as either currently lean, overweight or obese, and as having either consistently maintained that weight (weight stable) or as having lost weight from a higher weight (residual). Participants completed a series of measures to determine their stigma against the target individuals, and their attitudes in general towards obese individuals following their evaluation of the target individual. Two main moderating variables of pathogen avoidance and meritocratic beliefs were also examined as potential explanations for why residual obesity stigma exists. Contrary to our expectations, the results revealed no significant differences in participants’ ratings of the target individuals regardless of whether they were in a residual or a weight stable condition, and they show no evidence of residual stigma against both male and female targets. There was also a lack of moderation with both pathogen avoidance and meritocratic beliefs. The results call into question the existence of residual obesity stigma and indicate the need for further studies investigating this phenomenon.