Psychological Well-Being in Overweight Adults: The Effects of Percieved Weight Discrimination, Internalized Weight Stigma, and Coping

Zachary M Elison, Purdue University


Despite the prevalent rates of overweight and obesity in the United States, overweight people continue to be subject to substantial social stigma (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). While the physical health outcomes associated with obesity are well defined (Flegal, Graubard, Williamson, & Gail, 2005), the mental health outcomes remain elusive. Scholars have consistently found a positive association with having a high body mass index to poor psychological well-being. However, no research has examined how factors related to weight stigma influence this relationship. Using symbolic interactionist theory (Cooley, 1902; Kaufman & Johnson, 2004; Manning, 2005) and Hatzenbuehler’s psychological mediation framework (2009), this study formulated and empirically tested the internalized model of weight stigma, which examines the relationships between psychological well-being (i.e., self-esteem, absence of depressive symptoms), perceived weight discrimination, internalized weight stigma, and coping styles (i.e., problem-focused coping, active-emotional coping, avoidant-emotional coping). Hypotheses regarding the relationships among these variables, as well as the mediating role of (a) internalized weight stigma on perceived weight discrimination and psychological well-being, and (b) coping styles on perceived weight discrimination and internalized weight stigma were assessed. Data was collected from 234 self-identified overweight and obese adults through an online survey. Using structural equation modeling, results revealed that: (a) perceived weight discrimination and internalized weight stigma were both negatively related to psychological well-being; (b) perceived weigh discrimination was positively associated with all coping styles; (c) avoidant emotional coping completely mediated the relationship between perceived weight discrimination and internalized weight stigma; (d) no coping styles were significantly related to decreased internalized stigma; and (e) avoidant-emotional coping was positively related to internalized weight stigma. In an alternative model examining coping styles as potential moderators, only active-emotional coping modestly buffered the relationship between perceived weight discrimination and internalized weight stigma. Differences in gender, subjective socioeconomic status, subjective weight class, and BMI category were found in the study variables. Limitations of the study and recommendations for future research are presented alongside implications for counseling practice and advocacy with overweight people.




Çiftçi, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology

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