Some believe that making overweight people feel ashamed of their weight or eating habits may motivate them to get healthier.
However, scientific evidence confirms that nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead of motivating people, fat shaming makes them feel terrible about themselves, causing them to eat more and gain more weight (1).
This article tells you everything you need to know about fat shaming and its harmful effects.
Fat shaming involves criticizing and harassing overweight people about their weight or eating habits to make them feel ashamed of themselves.
The belief is that this may motivate people to eat less, exercise more, and lose weight.
In the majority of cases, the people who fat-shame others are slim and never had to struggle with a weight problem.
Research shows that much of the discussion on obesity on social media involves fat shaming, which often turns into harassment and cyberbullying — especially against women (2).
In fact, there are entire online communities where people gather to make fun of overweight people.
However, stigma and discrimination against overweight people cause major psychological harm and worsen the problem.
SUMMARY Fat shaming is the act of criticizing and harassing overweight people about their weight or eating behavior. It’s often justified as a means to motivate people, but research shows that it has the opposite effect.
Causes Overweight People to Eat More
Discrimination causes stress and negatively affects people.
In a study in 93 women, exposure to weight-stigmatizing information made those who were overweight — but not normal-weight — eat more calories and feel less in control of their eating (4).
Numerous other studies support that any type of fat shaming causes overweight people to become stressed, eat more calories, and gain more weight (3).
SUMMARY Many studies show that weight discrimination — including fat shaming — causes stress and leads overweight people to eat more calories.
Many observational studies have looked at weight discrimination and the risk of future weight gain and obesity.
In one study in 6,157 people, non-obese participants who experienced weight discrimination were 2.5 times more likely to become obese over the next few years (6).
Additionally, obese people who experienced weight discrimination were 3.2 times more likely to remain obese (6).
This shows that fat shaming is unlikely to motivate people to lose weight.
Another study in 2,944 people found that weight discrimination was linked to a 6.67-times greater risk of becoming obese (1).
SUMMARY Many observational studies indicate that weight discrimination is linked to weight gain and a drastic increase in obesity risk.
Harmful Effects on Obese People
The harmful effects of fat shaming go beyond increased weight gain — which is serious enough.
Research is very clear that fat shaming harms people — both psychologically and physically (8).
SUMMARY Weight discrimination can cause depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem, and an increased risk of various other mental and physical problems.
As mentioned above, studies show that weight discrimination is linked to an increased risk of depression.
For instance, one study found that those who had experienced weight discrimination were 2.7 times more likely to become depressed (9).
Depression is one of the top causes for increased suicide risk, and in a study in 2,436 people, severe obesity was associated with a 21-times greater risk of suicidal behavior and a 12-times greater risk of attempted suicide (12).
While studies on fat shaming and suicide risk are lacking, it’s plausible that the harmful effects of weight discrimination may increase suicide risk.
SUMMARY Depression is one of the top causes for increased suicide risk — and people who are obese are more likely to be depressed. It’s plausible that weight discrimination may increase suicide risk.
Weight discrimination — including fat shaming — leads to stress and causes overweight and obese people to eat more.
This form of bullying may not only cause additional weight gain but is also linked to depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem, and an increased risk of various other mental and physical problems.