University College London has stated that shaming people about obesity may cause them to gain weight, rather than lose it.
A study of 3000 adults over a four-year period indicated that those who had been discriminated against due to their weight had gained more weight than those who did not experience it.
Researchers said there was no evidence that discrimination was responsible for weight gain, however it may lead to comfort eating.
Health professionals have been asked to be more supportive in these cases.
The study assessed data taken from over-50s, ranging in weight from normal to obese, who had participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
They were asked if they had had any discriminatory experiences regarding their weight. Examples of discrimination included being harassed, experiencing poor services in stores and being treated in a disrespectful manner.
One in 20 of the participants reported experiencing weight discrimination, and in those categorised as morbidly obese, one in three experienced discrimination. The levels of discrimination were similar for males and females.
On average, over the four-year period, those who had experienced negative attitudes to their weight gained nearly one kilogram (2.2lb). Those who did not experience discrimination typically lost around 0.7kg.
According to the researchers, this suggests that shaming and blaming people for being overweight is not productive. They say it is more productive to encourage and support them.
The lead author of the study, from the department of epidemiology and public health at UCL, Dr Sarah Jackson, said weight discrimination has been known to diminish confidence levels about participating in physical activity, so overweight people tend to avoid it.
The study stated that there has been ‘widespread weight bias’ among the general public, as well as among health professionals.
The director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL, Professor Jane Wardle, said everyone, including health workers, should stop shaming and blaming those who are overweight, and offer support or treatment, if necessary.
Image Credit: Tony Alter