Tell Me Again How It’s “For My Own Good”

Lara Frater wrote about this and I wanted to boost the signal.  The Rudd Center recently came out with a study (PDF link) showing that weight stigma affects the stress hormone cortisol.

Exposure to weight-stigmatizing stimuli was associated with greater cortisol reactivity among lean and overweight women. These findings highlight the potentially harmful physiological consequences of exposure to weight stigma.

It doesn’t require being fat to have this kind of reaction, by the way. Both the lean and overweight women “were equally likely to report that they would rather not see obese individuals depicted in a stigmatizing manner in the media.”

What’s cortisol? Some highlights from Wikipedia:

Cortisol, known more formally as hydrocortisone is a steroid hormone [...] released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system; and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate  metabolism.  [...] Cortisol counteracts insulin, contributes to hyperglycemia-causing hepaticgluconeogenesis and inhibits the peripheral utilization of glucose (insulin resistance). [...] Cortisol can weaken the activity of the immune system.

Being fat (“excess weight”) is considered a cause of insulin resistance.  And it appears that weight stigma increases cortisol … which increases insulin resistance.  Which is the chicken? Which is the egg?

This isn’t necessarily new.  Weight stigma  has been tied to weight gain before.  What this study highlights is one mechanism.  There may be others.  We know that fat bias prevents fat people from getting jobs, from getting raises, and from getting proper healthcare treatment.   Fat people are also often paid less and harassed more than similar-qualified people who are thin.  None of this improves health.

So when I hear people saying that fat people just need more “tough talk” to lose weight “for their own good”? No, I don’t believe them.

One thought on “Tell Me Again How It’s “For My Own Good”

  1. Between this fact that stress is a cause of weight gain, middle class and especially lower middle class jobs don’t bring home as much money as they did forty years ago (which increases stress), and one of the biggest predictors of weight gain is being on a diet… I have to wonder if the shape of the economy and the scare over the `obesity epidemic` might in fact be the very causes of the epidemic.

    (And when I say ‘shape of the economy’ I do not mean its overall health, which is fine. I mean the distribution of income and wealth, which has been shifting towards the top in my lifetime.)

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