Weight Stigma and Health: The Mediating Role of Coping Responses

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Objective: Considerable evidence has documented links between weight stigma and poor health, independent of weight. However, little research has assessed how individuals cope with weight stigma, and how stigma-specific coping responses contribute to health. The present study examined multiple stigma-specific coping responses as mediators of the relationship between experienced weight stigma and health. Method: A diverse national sample of 912 adults (53.9% female, Mage = 40.33, SD = 15.58) reporting experiences of weight stigma completed questionnaires about stigma, stigma-specific coping responses (i.e., coping with weight stigma via negative affect, maladaptive eating behavior, healthy lifestyle behavior, and exercise avoidance), and health indices including depressive symptoms, physical health, psychological wellbeing, dieting frequency, and self-esteem. Results: Stigma-specific coping responses mediated the relationship between experienced weight stigma and all health indices, though indirect effects of weight stigma on health varied by coping strategy. Weight stigma was indirectly associated with greater frequency of depressive symptoms, lower scores on psychological wellbeing, self-esteem and physical health through coping via negative affect. Weight stigma indirectly contributed to greater frequency of depressive symptoms and dieting, as well as lower self-esteem and poorer physical health through coping via maladaptive eating. Weight stigma was associated with less frequent depressive symptoms, more frequent dieting, better psychological wellbeing, better self-esteem, and better physical health through coping with healthy lifestyle behaviors. Conclusions: These findings suggest that it may be useful to address weight stigma and coping in the context of weight management and obesity treatment programs, to help protect individuals from negative health effects of experiencing weight stigma.

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