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The Harmful Impact of Weight Stigma on Eating Pathology and Health Behaviors among White and Latinx Adolescents


Western body image ideals and concern about the negative effects of obesity have contributed to widespread weight stigma in the United States. People with larger bodies are often perceived by others as lazy, unsuccessful, unmotivated, less intelligent, slow, unhealthy, and unattractive (Puhl & Heuer, 2009). A growing body of research has documented that experiences of weight-based victimization tend to lead to exercise avoidance, binge eating, and further weight gain rather than weight loss. The current study extends this line of research with a sample of primarily White and Latinx adolescents from high schools in central California (N = 365). Participants completed a battery of measures one day during class. Results indicated that among participants who perceived themselves to be overweight, experiences of weight teasing were associated with exercise avoidance, but not binge eating. Lower internalized weight bias was not found to be protective against the effects of weight teasing. Weight-stigmatizing attitudes were found to be a distinct construct from ideal body internalization. Among the Latinx participants (n = 163), there was some support for the idea that lower levels of orientation to U.S. mainstream culture (and higher orientation to Latinx culture) was associated with less internalization of Western body image ideals. Levels of acculturation were not found to be related to weight-stigmatizing attitudes. Implications for eating disorders and obesity prevention programs are discussed. More research is needed on ways that weight-based victimization intersects with other forms of bias and discrimination, and on community and policy level interventions.

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