Demographic, socioeconomic and life-course risk factors for internalized weight stigma in adulthood: evidence from an English birth cohort study

Amanda M M Hughes*, Stuart Flint, Kenneth Clare, Antonis Kousoulis, Emily Rothwell, Helen E Bould, Laura D Howe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Obesity is highly stigmatized, with negative obesity-related stereotypes widespread across society. Internalized weight stigma (IWS) is linked to negative outcomes including poor mental health and disordered eating. Previous evidence examining population groups at higher risk of experiencing IWS comes from small, nonrepresentative samples. Here, we re-assess previously reported associations of IWS with demographic, socioeconomic, and wider social factors in a large general population birth cohort study for the first time.

In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we explored differences in IWS at age 31 years by sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, sexual orientation, and family and wider social influences, using confounder-adjusted multivariable regression.

In models adjusted for potential confounders and BMI in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (N = 4060), IWS was higher for females (standardized beta: 0.56, 95% CI: 0.50, 0.61), sexual minorities (0.17 S.D. higher, 95% CI: 0.09, 0.24), and less socioeconomically advantaged individuals (e.g., 0.16 S.D. higher (95% CI: 0.08, 0.24) for participants whose mothers had minimum or no qualifications, compared to a university degree). The social environment during adolescence and young adulthood was important: IWS was higher for people who at age 13 years felt pressure to lose weight from family (by 0.13 S.D., 95% CI: 0.03, 0.23), and the media (by 0.17, 95% CI: 0.10, 0.25), or had experienced bullying (e.g., 0.25 S.D., 95% CI: 0.17, 0.33 for bullying at age 23 years).

Internalized weight stigma differs substantially between demographic groups. Risk is elevated for females, sexual minorities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged adults, and this is not explained by differences in BMI. Pressure to lose weight from family and the media in adolescence may have long-lasting effects on IWS.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100895
Number of pages11
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health - Europe
Early online date15 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s)

Structured keywords



  • Weight stigma
  • Weight bias
  • Bullying
  • Longitudinal
  • Inequalities


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