How do obese individuals perceive and respond to the different types of obesity stigma that they encounter in their daily lives? A qualitative study
Obesity stigma exists within many institutions and cultural settings. Most studies suggest that stigmatising experiences have a negative impact on individuals' health and social behaviours and outcomes. However, some studies indicate that obesity stigma can motivate individuals to lose weight. Limited research has examined weight-based stigma from the perspective of obese individuals, including their perceptions of, and responses to, the different types of weight-based stigma they face in their daily lives. This study advances knowledge about weight-based stigma by documenting how obese adults (mostly female) described the different types of obesity stigma that they faced, how they responded to this stigma, and how different types of stigma impact on health and social wellbeing. Semi-structured, qualitative interviews were conducted between April 2008 and March 2009 with a diverse sample of 141 obese Australian adults. Guided by Link and Phelan's (2006) categorisation of different types of discrimination, participants' experiences could be grouped into three distinct types of stigma: 1) Direct (e.g. being abused when using public transport); 2) Environmental (e.g. not being able to fit into seats on planes); and 3) Indirect (e.g. people staring at the contents of their supermarket trolley). Participants described that more subtle forms of stigma had the most impact on their health and social wellbeing. However, it was the interaction between direct, environmental and indirect stigma that created a barrier to participation in health-promoting activities. Participants rarely challenged stigma and often blamed themselves for stigmatising experiences. They also avoided situations where they perceived they would be stigmatised and constantly thought about how they could find a solution to their obesity.