BACKGROUND: The stigma of obesity is a common and overt social bias. Negative attitudes and derogatory humor about overweight/obese individuals are commonplace among health care providers and medical students. As such, medical school may be particularly threatening for students who are overweight or obese. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of our study was to assess the frequency that obese/overweight students report being stigmatized, the degree to which stigma is internalized, and the impact of these factors on their well-being. DESIGN: We performed cross-sectional analysis of data from the Medical Student Cognitive Habits and Growth Evaluation Study (CHANGES) survey. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 4,687 first-year medical students (1,146 overweight/obese) from a stratified random sample of 49 medical schools participated in the study. MAIN MEASURES: Implicit and explicit self-stigma were measured with the Implicit Association Test and Anti-Fat Attitudes Questionnaire. Overall health, anxiety, depression, fatigue, self-esteem, sense of mastery, social support, loneliness, and use of alcohol/drugs to cope with stress were measured using previously validated scales. KEY RESULTS: Among obese and overweight students, perceived stigma was associated with each measured component of well-being, including anxiety (beta coefficient [b] = 0.18; standard error [SE] = 0.03; p < 0.001) and depression (b = 0.20; SE = 0.03; p < 0.001). Among the subscales of the explicit self-stigma measure, dislike of obese people was associated with several factors, including depression (b = 0.07; SE = 0.01; p < 0.001), a lower sense of mastery (b = −0.10; SE = 0.02; p < 0.001), and greater likelihood of using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress (b = 0.05; SE = 0.01; p < 0.001). Fear of becoming fat was associated with each measured component of well-being, including lower body esteem (b = −0.25; SE = 0.01; p < 0.001) and less social support (b = −0.06; SE = 0.01; p < 0.001). Implicit self-stigma was not consistently associated with well-being factors. Compared to normal-weight/underweight peers, overweight/obese medical students had worse overall health (b = −0.33; SE = 0.03; p < 0.001) and body esteem (b = −0.70; SE = 0.02; p < 0.001), and overweight/obese female students reported less social support (b = −0.12; SE = 0.03; p < 0.001) and more loneliness (b = 0.22; SE = 0.04; p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Perceived and internalized weight stigma may contribute to worse well-being among overweight/obese medical students.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2015, The Author(s).
Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.
- Body weight
- Medical students
- Psychological stress