Master of Arts
Weight stigma is highly prevalent as a motivational tool in exercise contexts. However, weight stigma experienced in this domain may contribute to lowered exercise engagement, particularly among higher-weight women. This thesis examined the effects of a weight stigma induction on psychological stress, intentions to exercise (ITE), and exercise behaviours. Higher-weight women (N = 170, Mage = 57.2) were randomly assigned to read a fictional news article (weight-stigmatizing vs neutral condition), and completed acute measures of psychological stress, ITE, and exercise behaviours 7-days later. Participants who were exposed to the stigmatizing content reported a significant increase in stress and lower acute ITE, compared to the control condition. There was no impact of study condition on self-reported exercise behaviours at follow-up. Further, stress did not mediate the relationships between study condition and exercise outcomes. This study extends the current research that weight stigma is harmful and contributes to health behaviour disengagement.
Summary for Lay Audience
Weight stigma refers to the social devaluation of higher-weight individuals based on their size and shape which leads to weight-based prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Research suggests that weight stigma negatively impacts psychological and physical health, through reducing engagement in exercise behaviours. Women are particularly vulnerable to these outcomes, as they face more frequent experiences of weight stigma, and report less frequent engagement in exercise across the lifespan. Theorists suggest that when higher-weight women anticipate or experience weight stigma in exercise contexts, they experience stress, which can increase their motivation to avoid stigma in these contexts. While the link between weight stigma, stress, and exercise behaviours has been proposed, it has yet to be experimentally tested. Therefore, the aim of this study was to use a weight-related stigma induction to examine the relationships between weight stigma, psychological stress, intentions to exercise, and exercise behaviours. Middle aged to older adult women (N = 170) who identified as higher-weight were randomly assigned to read a fictional exercise-based article that was either designed to be stigmatizing (pertaining to weight) or that was designed to be neutral (pertaining to vaping). Women completed measures of psychological stress (before and after reading the article) and reported on their intentions to exercise (after reading the article). One week later, participants reported the frequency of exercise they had engaged in since reading the article. As expected, women who read the weight stigmatizing article experienced more stress and less intentions to exercise, compared to women who read the neutral article. Although reading the exercise-based weight stigmatizing content impacted women’s immediate psychological experiences, it did not impact their exercise behaviours in the following week. This area of research highlights the negative influence of weight-based social identity threat and weight stigma on psychological stress and exercise intentions among middle aged to older adult women. Future research should aim to further understand and combat the negative effects of weight stigmatization to enhance women’s psychological experiences with exercise.
Randall, Isabella J., "Examining the effects of a weight stigma induction on psychological stress and exercise outcomes" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8106.