I recently came across this editorial discussing a subject very close to my heart. It’s called “Obesity Bias in the Gym: An Under-recognized Social Justice, Diversity, and Inclusivity Issue”. The article starts out by defining obesity bias this way:
“the tendency to negatively judge an overweight or obese individual based on assumed and/or false character traits. The bias that exists is not based on health risks associated with obesity, but is attributed to personality flaws such as being lazy or stupid. (p. 67)”
And it gets right down to the business of discussing the harms of this bias citing an increased vulnerability to problems like depression, low self-esteem, disordered eating, body image problems and avoiding exercise altogether.
The editorial sums up a lot of the important research that has been done on this topic over the last decade. The article is very rich and dense and I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing. But as I’ve been doing with some other research lately, I thought I would entice you with a summary of 10 important points to be found in the article:
1. The article cites a study by Chambliss, Finley and Blair comparing fat bias among 180 first-year and third year physical education students with 164 first year and third year psychology students. Not surprisingly the phys. ed students showed higher levels of fat bias than the psychology students. What is more disturbing is that third year phys. ed. students had higher levels of bias than first year students–suggesting that implicit fat bias got worse as these students progressed in their education.
2. The article cites a study by Dimmock, Hallet and Grove that found that personal trainers had an unconscious preference for working with thin clients rather than fat ones.
3. The article also references a study by Shapiro, King and Quinones indicating that trainers expected less of their fat clients, expected them to have a lower work ethic and to have poorer performance, and also indicated that these trainers received poorer ratings from their fat clients (who may have picked up on these negative vibes).
4. The article discusses a study of weight-based teasing of 11 to 19 year-old students. The study indicated that teachers were aware of the teasing 55 percent of the time, but at times ignored or even joined in the taunting.
5. In a study by Vartanian and Novack, 97 percent of the adult participants had experienced some weight stigma, and nearly half experienced weight stigma at least once per week. One of the common results of this stigma was exercise avoidance.
6. The editorial discusses that weight stigma in physical education environments is often seen as socially acceptable and is internalized and reenforced by fat people in their own lives.
7. The importance of understanding and lecturing about weight bias in the training of physical educators was discussed. However while changes in explicit anti-fat sentiments were observed, there was little change in the implicit biases phys. ed. students felt towards fat people.
8. The editorial notes that physical activity seems to be a more important predictor of health outcomes than body size and notes that fit and fat seems to be healthier than unfit and thin.
9. Thus the editorial discusses the need for physical activity for people of all shapes and sizes and,
10. The editorial reenforced the need to educate the educators and insist that we create safe and welcoming spaces for people of all sizes to engage in physical activity.
Wow. It really gets my blood moving and reenforces in me the need to fight for physically and emotionally safe spaces where folks of all sizes can exercise.
And if you are feeling revved up as well, I’d like to remind you that the Fat Activism Conference is less than 10 days away. Join us to hear over 40 speakers talk about making the world a better and safer place for every BODY.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. And don’t forget to join my mailing list for lots of free stuff!