Negative obesity stigma lingers even after women shed pounds

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(CBS News) The stigma of being fat is so strong that society may still perceive someone as unattractive even after they lost their excess weight.

A recently published study in the journal Obesity showed that people judged thin women differently if they knew about their weight history. Those that were fatter in the past were seen as less attractive than those who had always been thin.

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For the study, 273 participants were asked to read short descriptions either about women who had lost 70 pounds or people who had stayed the same weight. The stories were about people who were either currently obese or thin.

Then, participants were asked to talk about these women, including how attractive they were. Overall, even if the women were thin now, people were more likely to say they were less attractive if they had a story that said they had been obese at one point of their life. 

"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," Dr Janet Latner, study lead at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, said in the press release. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."

People were more biased against obese people if they had read about women who had lost weight as compared to if they read about women who had remained weight stable, regardless of if the woman was thin or obese. Participants were also more negative towards obese people when they were told that weight could be easily controlled.

The authors hypothesized that the fact that the media makes it seem like it's easy to lose weight may be detrimental and increase obesity stigma. The fact that people who struggle to lose weight may still be painted with the obese brush is problematic.

"The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight loss,"Dr. Kerry O'Brien, the study co-author from the University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said news release.

Obesity, which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a high amount of extra body fat, affects 35.7 percent of the U.S. population. No state has met the Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity prevalence to 15 percent. In fact, obesity prevalence of 30 percent or more has increased to 12 states in 2010, up from nine in 2009 and zero in 2000.