We all know that those of us who have diabetes, particularly when we are also overweight, have serious health problems to manage. And almost all people with diabetes are overweight.
But we often overlook the social problems that accompany these issues. They can be as serious and can make our physical problems even worse, according to provocative new research.
Discrimination is the root cause of these social problems. Although during the past century our country has made -- and continues to make -- enormous strides to end overt discrimination, covert discrimination still festers in the hearts of many Americans. We are cleaning up our act, but not our hearts.
Almost all of us are simultaneously perps and victims. Who doesn't believe that “the other,” whoever this may be, is inferior? Who doesn't suffer the sting of the other's beliefs that their type of person is better than another type of person?
We face discrimination for having diabetes. This is diabetesism.
A good friend of mine who has type 1 diabetes felt he had to close down his outstanding diabetes blog this month because he is looking for a job. Some employers won't hire people who have diabetes, although they would tell you otherwise.
If you are overweight, it’s even worse. In fact, perceived discrimination for being overweight often leads to a vicious cycle of even more weight. That’s the surprising and sad conclusion of this new research.
Weightism is discrimination against people who are overweight or obese. The study found a surprising and strong feedback loop that increases our risk for becoming and staying obese.
Today two researchers from Florida State University College of Medicine published their study, “Perceived Weight Discrimination and Obesity” in PLOS ONE. A few days ago I obtained an embargoed copy of the study from a representative of this professional journal.
A total of 6,157 people formed the basis of the study. They were those who answered the questions about discrimination and provided weight and height information in the Health and Retirement Study, which is representative of people who live at home in the United States. The study is longitudinal, which means that it involves repeated observations of the same variables over a long period of time. In this case it compared them in 2006 and 2010.
For me the shocking finding is that people in the study who experienced weight discrimination were about 2.5 times more likely to become obese by the end of the study. Those who were already obese at the start of the study were three times more likely to remain obese at the end of it than those who hadn’t experienced discrimination.
The new study puts it bluntly. “Like other forms of discrimination, body weight is a highly visible, personal characteristic that can evoke strong stereotypes and strong reactions from others,” the authors write.
American society has a pervasive stereotype about obesity: People are obese because they are lazy, unsuccessful, and weak-willed. Typical responses to such discrimination included coping behaviors like problematic eating and avoiding physical activity. This is a vicious cycle.