laughing at fat person

Weight Discrimination Linked to Increased Risk of Death

In recent years, Florida State University College of Medicine researchers Angelina R. Sutin and Antonio Terracciano have found that people who experience weight discrimination are more likely to become or remain obese, to develop chronic health problems,  and to have a lower satisfaction with life.

Now, according to a release from the university, they’ve found that people who report being subjected to weight discrimination also have a greater risk of dying. The increased risk is not because they may be overweight, but because of the apparent effects of the discrimination. The findings were published in October 2015 in Psychological Science.

Sutin and colleagues examined data involving more than 18,000 people from separate longitudinal studies, comparing those who reported experiencing weight discrimination with those who did not. Accounting for other factors that might explain a greater risk for mortality, the researchers found that individuals reporting weight discrimination had a 60 percent greater chance of dying over the follow-up period.

The release quotes Sutin, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and social medicine at the medical school, as saying, “What we found is that this isn’t a case of people with a higher body-mass index (BMI) being at an increased risk of mortality — and they happen to also report being subjected to weight discrimination,” said Sutin. “Independent of what their BMI actually is, weight discrimination is associated with increased risk of mortality.”

Data came from two long-term and ongoing studies. The Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which began in 1992 at the University of Michigan with support from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), involved more than 13,000 men and women with an average age of 68 for the time period Sutin and Terracciano examined.

Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) is a study begun in 1995 by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development with support from the NIA. Sutin and Terracciano examined MIDUS data involving about 5,000 men and women with an average age of 48.

Results were consistent across both groups of study subjects. In both samples, the researchers accounted for BMI, subjective health, disease burden, depressive symptoms, smoking history, and physical activity as indicators of mortality risk, but the association with weight discrimination remained.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that this has been shown — that weight discrimination is associated with an increased risk of mortality,” said Terracciano, associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Geriatrics.


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