Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Obesity-Stigma as a Multifaceted Constraint to Leisure

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Obesity-Stigma as a Multifaceted Constraint to Leisure

Article excerpt


Almost half a billion people around the globe are classified as overweight or obese (Rossner, 2002). One arrives at these nominal representations of weight groups by calculation of the body mass index (BMI) of a person, defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. The label of overweight is typically assigned to those with a BMI ranging from 25-30, while obesity is marked by any BMI greater than 30. Since the BMI range for overweight is so close to the marker for obesity, one might even consider the overweight range to signify a status of at-risk of becoming obese. Due to the significant impact on international healthcare systems, obesity is now classified as a global epidemic (Astrup, 2004; Wadden, Brownell, & Foster, 2002; Wang & Lobstein, 2006). In the United States alone, obesity has quickly developed into our country's number one health crisis (Wyatt, Winters, & Dubbert, 2006).

The most recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) (2006) indicates that two-thirds of the American adult population is overweight, with approximately one-half of that sub-group categorized as obese. This is a drastic increase from the near 45% reported between 1960 and 1962 (NCHS), especially when one factors in the population growth and medical advances since that time. In general, American men are more likely to be overweight, while a higher percentage of women are obese (NCHS). Overweight percentages are even higher within some racial and ethnic minority groups (NCHS). At least equally alarming is the 13 percent increase in overweight prevalence among school-age children and teens over the past 45 years (NCHS).

Not only does obesity pose physical health risks to the population, but there is growing evidence to support theories claiming that stigmatizing properties of obesity are seriously damaging to social and psychological wellness of people who are significantly overweight. Two related terms used throughout this paper are "anti-fat bias" and "obesity-stigma". Anti-fat bias refers to existing negative attitudes towards people perceived as being overweight that often result in discriminatory acts, while obesitystigma is the resulting social disapproval tied to such stereotypes. This specific type of prejudice is present in both implicit and explicit ways throughout our culture. Some consider this the last acceptable form of discrimination (Puhl & Brownell, 2001) which is so ingrained in our collective norms that this bias is often present as strongly, if not at a higher level, among people who are themselves overweight (Crandall, 1994; Friedman et al., 2005). Due to these issues and additional factors that will be covered, of the many stigmatized groups in our culture, the stigma often attached to people who are overweight and obese might be the most disabling and detrimental (Allon, 1982; Sarlio-Lahteenkorva, Stunkard, & Rissanen, 1995).

People who are significantly overweight often experience discrimination in family, social and work environments as well as negative experiences from service providers and general feelings of disapproval from others (Cossrow, Jefferey, & McGuire, 2001; Rogge, Greenwald, & Golden, 2004). Multiple studies validate the considerable negative impact obesity-stigma poses to social interactions of people who are obese (Carr & Friedman, 2005; Cossrow et al.; Friedman et al., 2005; Rogge et al.). It is therefore likely that these stigmatizing effects will be present in leisure environments and extensively impact the leisure experience of the many people who are overweight.

Even though there is a growing focus on obesity within the leisure field, the majority of emerging literature is related specifically to leisure time physical activity (LTPA), with insufficient attention to psychosocial barriers and constraints. While some leisure research has looked at other types of prejudice and discrimination, these studies may not be as relevant to obesity-stigma since it often functions in ways unique to other types of stigmas (Crandall, 1994; Crocker, Cornwell, & Major, 1993; Friedman et al. …

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