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.