The Obesity Stigma Asymmetry Model: The Indirect and Divergent Effects of Blame and Changeability Beliefs on Antifat Prejudice

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Abstract

The American Medical Association hoped that labeling obesity a disease would not only highlight the seriousness of the epidemic and elicit resources but also reduce stigma against obese individuals. In the current work, we tested the consequences of this decision for prejudice against obese individuals. In doing so, we highlighted the complicated link between messages stressing different etiologies of obesity and prejudice. More specifically, we conducted 3 experimental studies (nStudy1 = 188; nStudy2 = 111; nStudy3 = 391), randomly assigning participants to either an obesity is a disease message or a weight is changeable message. Our results indicated that messages focused on obesity as a disease, relative to those focused on the changeable nature of weight, both (a) decreased blame and via this mechanism, decreased antifat prejudice and (b) increased, or strengthened, the belief in the unchangeable nature of weight and via this mechanism, increased antifat prejudice. We call these opposing effects the stigma asymmetry model. We conclude with theoretical and practical implications of this model.

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