Fat-shaming only makes it even harder for people to lose weight - study

Amy Schumer (Getty)
Comedienne Amy Schumer was the target of fat-shaming recently (Getty)

Think you can shame someone into being thin? You're actually making it more likely they'll stay overweight.

Doctors studying the effects of fat-shaming have found victims are "more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress", according to a new study.

"There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health," says Rebecca Pearl, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.

"We are finding it has quite the opposite effect."

Researchers divided 159 obese women into two groups - those who believed negative stereotypes of being overweight applied to themselves, such as being lazy or unattractive, and those who didn't.

Women in the first group were three times more likely to be at risk of metabolic disease, and six times more likely to have high triglycerides - a type of fat found in the blood.

"Health care providers, the media, and the general public should be aware that blaming and shaming patients with obesity is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss, and it may in fact contribute to poor health if patients internalize these prejudicial messages," said study co-author Tom Wadden.

The stress of being shamed can lead to depression, which can take a real physical toll on a person, as well as overeating - which is obviously not a good strategy for losing weight.

"Disparagement of others due to their weight and messages that perpetuate blame and shame, if internalised, can cause harm to the physical and mental health of individuals with obesity," says Dr Pearl.

Almost a third of Kiwi adults are obese, up from 27 percent a decade ago, according to the Ministry of Health. Another third are overweight.

The findings of the University of Pennsylvania study were published on Thursday in medical journal Obesity.