Background

Weight bias has been found to reduce life expectancy of individuals with obesity as well as impact the quality and quality of health care they receive. Thus, weight bias has been described as a serious public health issue. To avoid perpetuating weight bias in public health policy and to improve health care for individuals living with obesity, a deeper understanding of weight bias is required, as current understanding is limited. The current research sought to better understand weight bias by utilizing justice motive theory; the fundamental need to believe that the world is a just place where people get what they deserve.

Methods

206 participants took part in an experimental study investigating the impact of body weight on perceived future life outcomes. After viewing a profile of an individual (male or female) with obesity (vs without obesity), participants were presented with a list of positive and negative life outcomes, of varying pre-determined controllability, related to their work life, personal life, and health. Participants were asked how likely each outcome was to happen to this person as well as how much they would have caused and deserved each outcome.

Results

Targets with obesity were perceived as being less likely to experience positive future life outcomes. When specific outcomes were examined, it was found that the targets with obesity were perceived as less likely to run a half-marathon and as being less likely to have caused this outcome if it did happen to them. The male target with obesity was perceived as being more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and as being more likely to have caused this diagnosis (vs thin targets).

Conclusions

Results suggest that people with obesity may be perceived as less likely to experience positive outcomes, which is consistent with stereotypes of them as lazy and unintelligent. These findings suggest that justice motive theory may be helpful in understanding weight bias as well as the impact it has on health care quality and quantity.