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Fat shaming can kill women

"Shame, specifically as an emotion, is related to human stress response. When we feel shame, our production of cortisol increases, which can lead to the accumulation of visceral fat."

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Fat-shaming increases women's risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to new research.

They are likelier to reach for the cookie jar than visit the gym - to cope with the stress.

Women feel more stigmatized over belly fat than men - regardless of body mass index or weight.

The phenomenon is fueling the obesity crisis by making them avoid exercise - and gorge on comfort food.

Internalized weight bias - the belief negative stereotypes apply to the self - has been linked with disordered eating.

Lead author Natalie Keirns, a psychologist at Oklahoma State University, said: "Some people who struggle with managing their weight may devalue themselves based on external messages from society telling them they are unattractive, self-indulgent or weak-willed because they weigh more.

"When these 'anti-fat messages are internalized, people often feel shame, which in turn, may make them vulnerable to weight gain."

Celebrities who have been criticized about their weight include singer Adele, TV presenter Holly Willoughby and actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Christina Hendricks.

Now scientists have analyzed the link between abdominal adiposity and self-devaluation related to participants' weight.

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Also known as visceral fat, it wraps around internal organs - increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and diabetes.

Keirns, a doctoral candidate, said: "We know stress may lead to weight gain and, specifically, to higher visceral fat.

"Visceral adiposity is the type of fat that is more closely related to CVD risk.

“Even though men typically, on average, had more of this harmful fat than women, we didn’t see the same relationship with the psychological, social stigma.

"For women, the way we view our bodies, and the way others view and judge our bodies appear to have negative effects.

“Even though the women had less visceral adiposity than men, it may be impacting our health more because of the negative way we feel about ourselves.

"Shame, specifically as an emotion, is related to human stress response. When we feel shame, our production of cortisol increases, which can lead to the accumulation of visceral fat."

The hormone is released during stress. People with severe depression are more likely to pile on the pounds.

Internalized weight stigma was measured in 70 volunteers using an 11-item questionnaire called WBIS-M.

On average, scores were higher in women than men - 3.5 compared to 2.7. What's more, they corresponded to more visceral fat.

For women, each one-point increase on the scale was associated with an average increase of 0.14 pounds. There was no connection among men.

The WBIS-M scores ranged from one to seven, and DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scans measured visceral and total body fat.

The US participants, aged 22 to 39, had a BMI of 29 and total body fat of 33 percent, on average.

It is the first study to suggest women with higher levels of weight bias internalization are more likely to accumulate more visceral fat.

Keirns said: "Among health care professionals, we need to be more aware of our assumptions and how weight bias can negatively affect our patients.

"Shifting the conversation from weight loss to health gain may be a simple way to change these conversations in order to eliminate what amounts to bias and judgment toward patients of higher weight."

The results were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2021.

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