Recently, NPR published a review of a study conducted with over 6,000 American men and women aged 50 and older, surveying how often they experienced different types of discrimination. This study also measured participants' height and weight. After four years a follow-up study was conducted that showed that overweight people who had said they experienced discrimination based on weight were more than two times more likely to be obese four years later than people who did not face weight-based discrimination. Those that were obese at the outset of the study were more than three times more likely to remain so if they were discriminated based on weight, while other types of discrimination (non weight-based) showed no effect on weight.
The Big Question
The big question here is: why so much hate towards fat people? As both a former fat kid (I weighed nearly 220 pounds at only 5'5" when I was 15 years old) and as a current fitness-industry professional who works with clients with weight issues, I am not surprised by these statistics.
As a young kid, I was bullied and discriminated against because of my weight. But while I definitely learned to grow a thick skin after years of being teased, tormented, picked on and rejected by girls, this discrimination triggered a guru-like quest in me to get fit and live a healthy lifestyle. Deep down, it probably drove me to get my Masters degree in Exercise Science and start working with people like me and helping them get fit, while simultaneously educating the skinny population that sometimes you can't help being a little larger!
Weight is determined by a lot of things, including genetics, which you can't control. Unfortunately, the public at large (and society in general) tend to generalize all large or heavy people as lazy or other more discriminatory stereotypes.
The Effects of the Hatred
Unfortunately, not every person that is on the large side has the same thick skin that I grew. This kind of "fat hating" can lead to emotional eating, bouts of depression or deeper depression, can cause or worsen eating disorders, and generally discourages people from becoming healthy. I see it every day in my gym...the stares, the backhanded comments, the giggles. And it breaks my heart, because all too often I see gym members who are weight conscious get discriminated against. Our culture promulgates this problem...so much so that airlines now charge an extra ticket fee or deny service because of weight. If we intend to fix obesity in this country, we also need to fix the social and cultural stigma that goes with it.
Do Not Be Discouraged
If you are a little fluffy, and conscious of it, you DO NOT have to be discouraged by all the fat-shamers. There are plenty of people (and places) within the fitness and wellness industry that can help you reach your health and fitness goals in a safe, constructive and positive environment. I would suggest researching personal trainers in your area, as well as finding other fitness classes and locations that offer group and individualized training sessions. Like any other disease, if you are struggling with weight issues, get the help of a qualified professional.
Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement
and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports
Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as
well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University
of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous professional, collegiate
and amateur athletes across many different fields, including
professional and arena football players, Mixed Martial Artists, elite
runners, international soccer players, and more.
Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA, as well as the owner and operator of Funky Fitness PA, a personal training studio, in home personal training and personalized fitness planning service. Ryan's work has been featured across the US and the globe, working with clients in all facets of life. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can check Ryan out on Facebook or follow him on Twitter, or you can reach him at email@example.com.