Publication Details

Lewis, S., Thomas, S. L., Blood, R. Warwick., Hyde, J., Castle, D. J. & Komesaroff, P. A. (2010). Do health beliefs and behaviors differ according to severity of obesity? A qualitative study of Australian adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7 (2), 443-459.


Public responses to obesity have focused on providing standardized messages and supports to all obese individuals, but there is limited understanding of the impact of these messages on obese adults. This descriptive qualitative study using in-depth interviews and a thematic method of analysis, compares the health beliefs and behaviors of 141 Australian adults with mild to moderate (BMI 30−39.9) and severe (BMI ≥ 40) obesity. Mildly obese individuals felt little need to change their health behaviors or to lose weight for health reasons. Most believed they could “lose weight” if they needed to, distanced themselves from the word obesity, and stigmatized those “fatter” than themselves. Severely obese individuals felt an urgent need to change their health behaviors, but felt powerless to do so. They blamed themselves for their weight, used stereotypical language to describe their health behaviors, and described being “at war” with their bodies. Further research, particularly about the role of stigma and stereotyping, is needed to fully understand the impact of obesity messaging on the health beliefs, behaviors, and wellbeing of obese and severely obese adults.



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