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Does Weight Discrimination Kill?

sharma-obesity-weight-bias-conduit1The Canadian Obesity Network’s new supportive logo, tagline (respect.knowledge.action) and strategic objective (to remove the stigma from obesity and bring positivity and respect to those who are affected by it) is based on the accumulating evidence that weight bias and discrimination have significant detrimental physical, emotional and social consequences for Canadians living with obesity.

Now a paper by Angelina Sutin and colleagues, published in Psychological Science shows a positive association between weight discrimination and the risk of all-cause mortality.

The researchers studied almost 20,000 Participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS).

In both studies, perceived weight discrimination was associated with an almost 60% increase in mortality risk.

This increased risk was not accounted for by common physical and psychological risk factors including BMI, subjective health, disease burden, depressive symptoms, smoking history, and physical activity.

The association between mortality and weight discrimination was generally stronger than that between mortality and other attributions for discrimination (e.g. gender, age, sexual orientation, physical disability or “ancestry or national origin” ).

Thus, although such studies cannot prove causality, they do suggest that experiencing weight-based discrimination may not only have negative physical, emotional and social consequences for people living with obesity, but may also shorten life.

Berlin, Germany


  1. Yes it does kill. It took me 17 years to be diagnosed with Lipedema Stage IV. Along the way, I had sepsis at least three times from leg and other infections that almost took me out. If I had been treated at the right point in time instead of being told to “go home” and lose weight, then my life could have gone very different. Same for my hypothyroidism which the diagnosis got so delayed on, I have heart damage from it. PCOS was the icing on the cake too. Many fat people are dying now because the medical establishment clings to their “diet and lose weight formulas” which are objectively failing and the science bias continues. The stress of weight discrimination kills too, but over the longer haul. Poverty too comes for those who are fat enough not to “fit in” even if they are healthy and mobile enough to work. Something needs done about all this. The discrimination is even steering the science away from any real cure.

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  2. Oh, my, yes.

    If you don’t mind another tale – I am now disabled, due to one of my legs being severely damaged from infection.

    It was clearly cellulitis – a hot, red area with white streaks. My then-doctor insisted it was a blood clot, because “Fat people always get blood clots!” Ultrasounds were always negative; every time (3 times!) I went back to her because there was no clot, she’d grudgingly give me a few days of a low-dose antibiotic. The fourth time it had reinfected with MRSA. They thought they were going to have to cut the thing off. Two+ weeks in-patient, four months at home with strong doses of Clinda and morphine. It’ll never be the same.

    Now I see doctors and they explain to me that I’m “not -really- disabled.” They tell me that I’m just fat, and if I lose weight my leg will magically heal itself!

    And the best part: When I tell them that my big health goal is to exercise as much as I can as often as I can (most of it is sitting exercises, but I do try to walk a bit to keep the lymph moving), and to eat healthier meals, they call me a liar – because if I were -really- doing that, I would of course be losing weight!

    Not just discriminating… but demotivating as well.

    (I try to point these folks to sites like yours and the Rudd Center’s documents for medical professionals about weight bias, but it’s like shoveling sand against the tide. The common belief in medicine is that “Everyone Knows” that weight loss is the only way to health, and a patient who doesn’t rabidly diet, and try every second of their life to lose weight, is non-complaint!)

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