Association between weight bias internalization and metabolic syndrome among treatment-seeking individuals with obesity.

Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). 2017;25(2):317-322

Plain language summary

Weight stigma is a psychosocial consequence in which individuals with obesity experience public discrimination and devaluation. Some individuals apply these negative stereotypes to themselves, which creates a self-directed stigma referred to as weight bias internalization (WBI). While studies have found perceived weight discrimination to be associated with an increased risk of mortality, no study has investigated the relationship between WBI and obesity on the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (MetS). The aim of this study is to examine the relationship between WBI and MetS. The authors hypothesised that among obese individuals, higher levels of WBI would be associated with increased odds of having MetS. Among the 178 obese adults recruited, 159 completed the study. Tests included anthropometric measurements, blood analysis, the Weight Bias Internalization Scale (WBIS) and the Patient Health Questionnaire. This study found that individuals who self-stigmatise may have a heightened risk of dyslipidemia, one component of MetS. Based on these results, the authors conclude that weight stigma is a chronic stressor and may contribute to poor health. Future studies are needed to identify specific pathways in which WBI exacerbates cardiometaoblic risk factors.


OBJECTIVE Weight stigma is a chronic stressor that may increase cardiometabolic risk. Some individuals with obesity self-stigmatize (i.e., weight bias internalization, WBI). No study to date has examined whether WBI is associated with metabolic syndrome. METHODS Blood pressure, waist circumference, and fasting glucose, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol were measured at baseline in 178 adults with obesity enrolled in a weight-loss trial. Medication use for hypertension, dyslipidemia, and prediabetes was included in criteria for metabolic syndrome. One hundred fifty-nine participants (88.1% female, 67.3% black, mean BMI = 41.1 kg/m ) completed the Weight Bias Internalization Scale and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9, to assess depressive symptoms). Odds ratios and partial correlations were calculated adjusting for demographics, BMI, and PHQ-9 scores. RESULTS Fifty-one participants (32.1%) met criteria for metabolic syndrome. Odds of meeting criteria for metabolic syndrome were greater among participants with higher WBI, but not when controlling for all covariates (OR = 1.46, 95% CI = 1.00-2.13, P = 0.052). Higher WBI predicted greater odds of having high triglycerides (OR = 1.88, 95% CI = 1.14-3.09, P = 0.043). Analyzed categorically, high (vs. low) WBI predicted greater odds of metabolic syndrome and high triglycerides (Ps < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS Individuals with obesity who self-stigmatize may have heightened cardiometabolic risk. Biological and behavioral pathways linking WBI and metabolic syndrome require further exploration.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Hormonal ; Neurological
Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Weight stigma
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Psychosocial influences
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Blood
Bioactive Substances : Cortisol

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable