Weight stigma is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes across the body mass index (BMI) continuum. However, few studies have examined discrimination experienced by people with low body weights.
This study explored the presence of anti-thin bias, defined as the belief that individuals at lower body weights have undesirable personality characteristics, in young adult women. Additionally, we examined perceived etiology of weight for women with underweight.
Participants (N =295 women, age 18.84 ± 2.32) were randomly assigned to read one of the six vignettes about women who differed by race (White and Black) and BMI status (slightly underweight, average weight, and slightly overweight).
Negative personality characteristics were more likely to be ascribed to vignette characters with under- or overweight BMIs, compared to characters with average weight BMIs. Participants were more likely to attribute underweight characters’ body weight to an eating disorder (ED) compared with average or overweight characters.
Results suggest that women with under- or overweight BMIs experience greater stigmatization for their body weight than women with average BMIs, underscoring the need for research to investigate weight discrimination across the weight spectrum.
Level of evidence
Level I, experimental study.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Reference Virginia Commonwealth University IRB No: HM20010525.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Sarah is a [White/Black] 19-year-old female. She is a full-time student in her sophomore year of college and she is studying marketing. Between schoolwork, housework, shopping, and socializing, she enjoys watching Netflix. She regularly hangs out with several good friends. Sarah is [106/120/154 lbs, 5’4, and a size 0/6/12] and her doctor told her that this means that she is [slightly underweight/normal weight/slightly overweight].
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Davies, A., Burnette, C.B. & Mazzeo, S.E. Real women have (just the right) curves: investigating anti-thin bias in college women. Eat Weight Disord 25, 1711–1718 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-019-00812-7
- Weight stigma
- Eating disorder