Mental suffering as a result of chronic stress through stigmatization in obesity

The IFB scientist Dr. Claudia Sikorski and her team analyzed 64 scientific studies that examined the association between the stigmatization of obese people and mental strains and disorders. Stigmatization has a negative effect on the psyche and obesity.

adipöse Menschen - Stigmatisierung
(Photo: IFB Adipositas)
Dr. Claudia Sikorski investigates the impact of prejudices and negative attitudes (stigma) on people with obesity. (Photo: Adiposity)

The prejudices, devaluation, social exclusion and discrimination experienced by these people because of their obesity act as chronic stressors and lead to the reduction of self-esteem, the ability to solve problems and the satisfaction with their own appearance. In particular, the reduced self-esteem is considered by all of the studies as a major risk factor for mental illness in obese people. Depressions and anxiety disorders may e.g. be a result of this psychological strain. A degraded self-esteem was found already in children and adolescents with obesity.

As a special insight from the evaluation of the different study publications Dr. Sikorski sees: “We find many risk factors that are established in the field of mental disorders strongly marked in people with obesity. These risk factors are not something special for this group, but patients with adiposity seem to show an increased frequency of these factors, also due to stigma.” It has also been shown in obesity research that the stigmatization and the resulting psychological strains lead to adverse eating habits, weight gain, and the "preservation" of obesity. A vicious circle develops when the stigmatization due to obesity leads to a further increase in weight and therefore to even more stigmatization. Also in patients with a primary mental suffering like a lack of self-esteem or a depression doctors observed that these patients often showed a weight gain in the long run.

Dr. Sikorski underlines that there are generally too few studies on the relationship of weight stigma / weight discrimination and mental health burdens. However, since the current therapies for obesity are less successful in the long term, with rising numbers of people with obesity, these psychological aspects increasingly get attention now. As head of the IFB Junior Research Group “Stigma and Internalized Stigma in Obesity” (LINK) Sikorski and her team explore the causes and consequences of obesity-related stigmatization at the Institute for Social Medicine, Occupational Medicine and Public Health (ISAP) at the University of Leipzig.

„This research is important for an improved treatment of obesity, because we cannot just hope that in our society the social change in the perception of people with obesity will happen soon. Therefore, we should identify ways and means to deal with stigma for those affected”, says the 29-year-old scientist.

Doris Gabel