Are food addicts stigmatized?

Though obesity in general is the still the focus of a lot of negativity and stigma in society, researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity have found, oddly, that people might be more kindly inclined to those with food addictions than you might thinks.

The studies are published online in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

The notion of food addiction has gained increased attention from academics, health care professionals, and mainstream media as a contributing factor to obesity. However, little research has been done on public perceptions.

For the project, researchers conducted an online survey of 659 adults. Participants were provided with different labels describing individuals with various health conditions and addictions, including obesity, food addiction, physical disability, mental illness, cocaine addiction, and smoking. Participants were asked questions regarding their beliefs and feelings toward an individual with each of these different conditions. In a second study, researchers conducted an experiment where 570 adults were randomly assigned to view only one addiction — either smoking, alcohol, or food addiction — to specifically compare public perceptions of individuals described as being addicted to food to those with smoking or alcohol addictions.

Findings from both studies revealed that food addiction was viewed more favorably than other addictions, including alcohol and tobacco. The person with the “food addict” label was perceived to be more likeable and generated more empathy, less disgust, and less anger than those labeled with alcohol and tobacco addictions. The person with the “food addict” label also was blamed less than those addicted to other substances.

But the news isn’t all good. Survey findings also showed that labeling an individual as a “food addict” increased stigmatizing attitudes when this label was applied to an obese individual. Participants expressed more irritation, anger, and disgust toward an obese person described as a food addict. The authors suggest that the “food addict” label could increase blame toward obese individuals if the public views food addiction as a euphemism for out-of-control overeating.

For the full study, visit the Rudd Center web site.

Amanda Cuda