What is Weight Bias and How Does it Effect YOU?

This week is weight stigma awareness week. Last week, I attended a lecture about Health At Every Size, a new movement that encourages acceptance of all body shapes and sizes and recognizes that health and weight are not necessarily correlated.

That’s right: WEIGHT is NOT correlated with HEALTH.

This shocked me, because the messages I’ve received are that smaller bodies are healthier than larger bodies…right?

But it turns out those messages are not true. The result of a 2013 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the people categorized as overweight or obese, according to BMI, actually have LOWER mortality risk than those in the normal BMI range.

And yet, the line between health and weight is so clearly drawn that many of us can’t help but make the assumption…

Skinny = Healthy

Fat = Unhealthy

Imagine that you were sitting at Lenoir or Starbucks with some friends, looking at the photo below in a magazine or online. What are people saying?

thin woman
“Models photo shoot” by David Yu, Flickr Creative Commons

Now, imagine ya’ll are looking at this photo. What are people saying?

Large woman wearing floral dress and coat
“It’s been awhile” by Amber Karnes, Flickr Creative Commons

What is weight bias and where does it come from?

These assumptions are examples of weight bias. The Binge Eating Disorder Association defines weight bias as “negative judgment based on weight, shape, and/or size.” It can be both explicit and implicit, and it leads to weight stigma, or internalized shame resulting from weight bias.

Weight bias stems from a culture that inaccurately equates thinness with health, happiness, and success. Add to that the growing “war on obesity” which has become a war on obese people, and it is clear that weight bias is increasingly pervasive.

Unfortunately, it also starts young and often in the home: in one study, 47% of overweight girls and 34% of overweight boys were teased about their weight by family members. Many parents who struggle with their body image subconsciously pass this on to their kids, while others try intentionally not to.

What about weight bias for the thin folks (aka “thin-shaming”)?

I have written a few blogs about body image, and I try to veer away from promoting one body type over another, because thin people face assumptions that they are stuck up or vain or that they have an eating disorder. Songs like “All About That Bass” and campaigns like “Real Women Have Curves” send a negative message to thin women, and I’m not okay with that.


When it comes to weight bias, people with large bodies have it worse. And here’s why:

People with large bodies don’t just face stigma from fat jokes, they also face discrimination. Weight discrimination has increased 66% over the past decade, making it comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women.

Here are some of the inequities:

Education—compared to nonobese children, obese children are

  • Perceived as less likely to succeed by teachers and principals
  • Less likely to be admitted to college with comparable academic performance
  • Less likely to attend college
  • Subject to teasing and bullying which leads to increased absences and depression

Employment—compared to nonobese adults, obese individuals face

  • Lower employment with comparable qualifications and skills
  • Lower wages (1% to 6% less than nonobese employees)
  • Negative bias in performance evaluations

Health—compared to nonobese patients, obese patients experience

  • Negative stereotypes among health care professionals
  • Less time with their physicians
  • Increased depression, lower self esteem, and negative body image

In an earlier blog, I talked about how body shame hurts us all. And it does. However, the shame associated with larger bodies comes with a large dose of discrimination that affects people’s ability to get into college, get a job and get paid fairly, and get the medical attention they need. And that’s the real shame.

Help fight weight stigma by

  • Avoiding media that supports weight bias and weight stigma; read positive media like Yoga Body Project or join the Health At Every Size movement
  • Recognizing that body shame negatively affects everyone—large or small—but it results in some serious inequities for people with larger bodies
  • Taking Embody Carolina’s training to learn more about eating disorders and the healthy weight myth
  • Reading more about thin privilege and fat acceptance

3 Things We Learned from One Act Participants

Bystander intervention is considered a promising practice for preventing sexual violence on college campuses. UNC-CH first implemented bystander intervention in fall 2010 with our first One Act training, and have been growing the program since then, training over 2130+ students in One Act or One Act for Greeks since its inception.

Because of our commitment to implementing programs using the best available evidence possible, Student Wellness staff collect data about the effectiveness of One Act bystander intervention to make sure that what we’re doing is working! We’re delighted to share that data from the first two years of the program that we’ve previously shared here on the blog was published in the May 2015 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

So what else have we learned?

  1. About one quarter of students attending One Act trainings (excludes One Act for Greeks*) in 2012-2015 identify that they have experienced sexual violence, interpersonal violence, or stalking in their lifetime.
  2. On average, 85% of One Act participants (excludes One Act for Greeks) in 2012-2015 know someone who has experienced sexual violence, interpersonal violence, or stalking.
  3. 100% of participants in both One Act and One Act for Greeks during the 2014-2015 academic year who completed our 1 – week post-test said that they are likely or very likely to intervene if a friend says that forcing someone to have sex is okay.

*due to time limits, anonymous clickers are not used in One Act for Greeks

Read FAQ’s about our research here.

Created by Kelli Raker via piktochart

The latest from researchers at UNC…

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The latest from researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill: binge drinking among college students “can lead to lower intelligence and impulsive behavior.”1 What’s binge drinking? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines it as: 5 or more drinks in a drinking episode for men, or 4 or more drinks for women.2 See my post “Women and Alcohol” for info on why it’s 4 drinks for women and 5 for men.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego looked at brain scans of young folks who drink compared to brain scans of young folks who don’t drink. They “found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teens that drank. [They] believe this damage negatively affects attention span in boys, and girls’ ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.”3

Here’s what’s crazy: the young folks whose brains they scanned didn’t drink all that frequently – on average once or twice a month, with 4 to 5 drinks each episode (which is technically binge drinking, ya’ll). That doesn’t seem like very much, right? Well, it is. See, our brains are still growing and developing, actually until we’re about 25, and exposing those brains to the toxic effects of alcohol (it’s an intoxicant, friends!) is bad news bears.

But here’s the thing, we (meaning us young folk) aren’t as likely to experience immediate negative health stuff like nausea, vomiting, and really nasty hangovers as older folk are, but binge drinking actually affects us more in the long run. Because we don’t experience as many effects right away, we may not think it hurt us in the long run. But it does, friends! No word yet whether this damage is reversible.

So protect those brains and if you choose to drink, drink moderately, which means no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.2