In case you didn't already know: Fat shaming is wrong. It's incredibly hurtful and can have an enormously negative effect on a person's mental health — and now, a new study suggests being fat shamed might also be linked to serious physical health problems, as well.
In a January 2017 study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Weight and Eating Disorders studied 159 obese adults who were a part of a larger clinical trial for a weight-loss medication. The researchers gave the participants questionnaires that measured for depression and whether they internalized biases about overweight people being lazy, unattractive, or worthless. Then the participants went through medical screening to see if they had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that are associated with heart disease and diabetes.
When the researchers divided the participants into two groups — one with high levels of internalized weight bias and one with low levels of internalized weight bias — they found major differences in their overall physical health: Obese people with high levels of internalized weight biases were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome and six times more likely to have high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood.
Why the connection? The researchers believe that when people feel fat shamed, they tend to get stressed out and ignore diet and exercise guidelines.
"There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health," Rebecca Pearl, PhD, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. "We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress."
It's worth noting that the study had some limitations: It relied on self-reported information to divide the participants into groups; the participants were mostly African American women, so the results might not be applicable to the population as a whole; and, perhaps most importantly, the participants were part of a larger clinical trial that was funded by a pharmaceutical company for a weight-loss drug, which might have affected the participants' medical data.
That said, this research still serves as an important reminder that body shaming does nothing but hurt people — in more ways than one.