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Obesity stigma makes it difficult to get support, survey says

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Here’s the thing about weight stigma: Whether you’ve heard it called fatphobia, fat shaming, or discrimination based on weight and size, all of those terms are consistent with systemic bias. And that bias in fashion, social media, health care, and the job market can make it nearly impossible to find compassionate medical providers, equal employment opportunities, and even clothes or spaces that fit—like airplane or movie theater seats. And the thing is, research suggests that weight stigma can actually lead to more weight gain.

Weight stigma may be subtle—being ignored when you’re waiting for a table at a restaurant, or being passed over when you have something to say in a meeting. Or it could be blatant, like a doctor telling you to lose weight when you’ve come in for a rash, or social media trolls making fun of people like you with obesity. And you don’t need us to tell you how profound that emotional impact can be, regardless of how big or small the discrimination is. 

 But there’s also a stigma around getting help with weight loss or taking medication to sustain your weight care goals. This stigma is one of the key challenges reported in a 2022 Found survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by the market research company OnePoll. There’s a shame around the weight care journey as a whole, even though our data showed that it’s decreasing—with 73% of respondents reporting that they’re more comfortable discussing weight loss with their family and friends compared to five years ago. 

 Looking at respondents' overall health, 71% of those surveyed said they’ve taken medication for physical or mental health conditions or both. And when asked how they felt about discussing the use of medication with family and friends, 59% of respondents said they were more comfortable talking about it now than they did a few years ago. 

 Here are more insights from our poll:

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A large and growing body of research shows that weight stigma is an independent health risk, even when controlling for BMI. For example, a 2017 study found that people who felt higher levels of weight stigma had more than twice the risk of high allostatic load—a measure of the total amount of chronic stress on the body, which raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality. 

And that’s important because those health outcomes often get blamed on weight, as though it were the only factor. 

Despite the fact that people are more open to talking about their weight care journey—and that’s real progress!—many still feel stigmatized: 41% said they don’t discuss it with family and friends because they fear disapproval about their weight loss methods. When you constantly hear a barrage of negative comments, feel that you’re less than because of your weight, or are questioned about your decision to choose medication, it can make it hard to share your weight loss journey and feel supported as you get healthier.

What medications are Americans discussing?

It’s true—some healthcare topics are easier to talk about than others. Found’s poll showed that 41% of respondents are very comfortable talking with family and friends about the medications they take for conditions like diabetes or a thyroid issue, compared to only 29% who felt the same about mental health medications. Meanwhile, only 27% said they openly discussed their prescription weight-loss medication with their loved ones. 

 And that can be a challenging hurdle. Because while people may not be comfortable talking about certain medications, they do want them. Our poll found that 33% of respondents wished they had access to them—a conundrum that proves getting help is necessary.

Tackling the stigma

Clearly, weight stigma impacts Americans in numerous ways. 

Interestingly, almost half of participants (44%) told us they’d feel more comfortable discussing their weight loss journey with their friends and family if there was an understanding that weight loss is driven largely by biology and not just a “choice.” They crave a more science-backed approach to weight care that they can share with their inner circle.

 “It’s time we evolve the mainstream weight loss narratives that are outdated and tell us it’s our fault we aren’t losing weight," says Dr. Rekha Kumar, chief medical officer at Found. “The science clearly shows that eating and exercise changes don’t address the biological components associated with weight, which is why medications can be extremely valuable in a weight loss journey.”

Until weight stigma ends, it will keep harming the well-being of those with obesity or who are overweight. But there’s hope: According to our poll, more people than ever are willing to discuss weight loss medications as a part of their overall weight care program. And that is 100% a step in the right direction.

Want to see how Found’s combination of community support and prescription medication can jumpstart your weight care journey? Take the Found quiz today!

  • Guidi J, Lucente M, Sonino N, Fava GA. Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review. Psychother Psychosom. 2021;90(1):11-27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32799204/
  • Vadiveloo M, Mattei J. Perceived Weight Discrimination and 10-Year Risk of Allostatic Load Among US Adults. Ann Behav Med. 2017 Feb;51(1):94-104. doi: 10.1007/s12160-016-9831-7. Erratum in: Ann Behav Med. 2017 Feb;51(1):105. PMID: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5253095/

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