Anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), binge-eating disorder (BED), and obesity are stigmatized conditions known to affect both men and women. However, little research has examined differences in stigmatization of individuals with these diagnoses or the impact of gender on stigmatization. Such perceptions may play an important role in understanding and reducing the stigma associated with weight and dysfunctional eating behaviors. This study investigated stigmatizing attitudes toward eating disorders and obesity in men and women.
Participants were university undergraduates (N = 318; 73.6% female; mean age = 21.58 years, SD = 3.97) who were randomly assigned to read one vignette describing a male or female target diagnosed with AN, BN, BED, or obesity. Participants then completed measures of stigma and perceived psychopathology. Measures were analyzed using a 4 (target diagnosis) x 2 (target gender) MANOVA and subsequent ANOVAs.
Measures of stigma and perceived psychopathology revealed significant main effects for diagnosis (p < .001), but not for target gender. There were no interactions between target diagnosis and gender. Although all diagnostic conditions were stigmatized, more biased attitudes and perceptions of impairment were associated with targets with AN and BN compared to targets with BED and obesity. Additionally, individuals with AN, BN, and BED were perceived as having significantly more psychological problems and impairment than individuals with obesity.
Although individuals with eating disorders and obesity both face stigmatizing attitudes, bias against individuals with AN, BN, and BED may exceed stigma toward obesity in the absence of binge eating. Future research is necessary to address stigmatizing beliefs to reduce and prevent discrimination against both men and women with eating disorders and obesity.