According to a recent study published in the journal Obesity, people who have lost weight are still stuck with the hurtful stereotype of being perceived as “obese” and unhealthy.

Lead researcher Dr. Janet Latner, associate professor of psychology at UH Manoa and her colleague Dr. Kerry O’Brien, senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in Great Britain and Monash University, Austrailia, set out to determine if anti-fat prejudice sticks with women who were previously obese, but have lost weight.

They surveyed a group of young people on how “attractive” or “appealing” they found someone after prompting them to read short descriptions of a woman who had either stayed at her current weight, or who had lost 70 pounds (32 kilograms).

Latner commented:

“Prejudice against obese people is widespread and hurtful. Many obese people are trying to lose weight to escape painful discrimination. Surprisingly, however, currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history. Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight.”

Latner explains that this may account for the reason why women who were “obese” but aren’t anymore have a harder time finding jobs or why they receive lower earnings than they expect.

The researchers also found that the people who were surveryed about their feelings toward obese women found women who remained at their weight (weather obese or not) were perceived as more attractive than those women who had actually lost weight.

The authors were surprised to find that people’s feelings about obese women were even more negative and increased when they believed that body weight is controlled easily. However, Latner explains that biological and genetic factors are often the cause of obesity, and extra weight is not always easy to get rid of.

Obrien adds: “The best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that our physiology and genetics, and the food environment are the really big players in our weight status and weight loss. Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable regardless of willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as ‘fat’ are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink of our approach to, and views of, weight.”

Latner concludes:

“Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma. Believing that obese poeple can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more. These findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obestity stigma is so powerful and enduring, that it may even outlast the obesity itself. Given the number of people who may be negatively affected by obesity prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduces on a societal level.”

Written By Christine Kearney