The Stigma of Bariatric SurgeryThursday, July 14, 2011
That overweight and obese individuals face weight-bias and discrimination is no secret. It is also no secret that individuals who lose weight often experience significant positive changes in how they are treated by family, friends, colleagues and perfect strangers.
Interestingly, however, it turns out that these ‘positive’ attitudes to people, who lose weight, may very much depend on how these individuals actually managed to do so.
Thus, a study by Jasmine Fardouly and Lenny Vartanian from Sydney, Australia, just published in the International Journal of Obesity, suggests that knowing how the weight loss came about significantly determines the changes in weight bias following weight loss.
Participants (N=73) were first shown an image of an obese woman or a thin woman and asked to indicate their perceptions of the target with respect to the target’s behaviors (for example, how often she exercises), as well as some personality characteristics (for example, lazy, sloppy and competent).
Participants were then shown a more recent image of the obese target in which she had lost weight, and were informed that the target had lost weight through diet and exercise or through surgery, or were not provided with any explanation for the weight loss.
Regardless of the method of weight loss, all targets were rated as eating more healthily, exercising more, and being more competent and less sloppy after having lost weight.
However, participants also rated the target as less lazy when they learned that she had lost weight through diet and exercise, or when no information was provided about the method of weight loss, than if they were informed that the target had lost weight through surgery.
Or, as the authors point out:
“Weight-loss surgery patients may not be able to overcome the obesity stigma as surgery may be perceived as the lazy weight-loss option because of an assumption that it does not require effort and discipline that losing weight through exercise and dieting does. Thus, despite choosing to undergo weight-loss surgery to reduce weight stigma, obese individuals may continue to be viewed as conforming to the obesity stereotype, and hence be considered lazy and lacking in willpower.”
This certainly explains why many, who have successfully lost weight with bariatric surgery, will often not mention this to even their closest friends and why it may be awhile before gastric bypass surgery becomes to be viewed as as acceptable a treatment for severe obesity and its complications, as coronary bypass surgery is viewed as an acceptable treatment for heart attacks.
Fardouly J, & Vartanian LR (2011). Changes in weight bias following weight loss: the impact of weight-loss method. International journal of obesity (2005) PMID: 21364528