Weight discrimination is a major issue in our society and in the U.S. military, service members are not immune to it. According to a new study published Sept. 26 in the APA journal, Stigma and Health, nearly 50 percent of service members who are overweight or obese have experienced it.
Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), in Bethesda, Md., Madigan Army Medical Center, in Fort Lewis, Wash., and the Oregon Research Institute, in Eugene, Ore., conducted a study, “Weight Stigma among Active Duty U.S. Military Personnel with Overweight and Obesity.” They interviewed and surveyed 119 active duty service members with overweight or obesity, asking them about weight stigma, mood, eating and coping behaviors. Forty-nine percent of participants had experienced weight stigma at least once in the military, for instance, being denied an award or promotion due to weight/shape, or being mocked during training or drills.
Additionally, among those who reported stigma in the military based on any characteristic, weight (71 percent) and shape (61 percent) were the two most commonly stigmatized attributes. Those who had experienced weight stigma in the military were also more likely to report symptoms of depression, emotional eating, internalization of weight bias, and unhealthy coping behaviors, including laxative misuse and purging.
“These findings indicate that weight stigma may be quite common within the military, and that weight stigma in the military is associated with poorer psychological health, including depressive symptoms, unhealthy weight control behaviors, and eating in response to negative affect,” said USU’s Natasha Schvey, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.