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Overweight and Apple-Shaped, Not Pear-Shaped? Expect More Stigma

I suffer from this. A new study says it's not just the weight that bothers women who are oversized. It's the size and shape of their body, as well, that drives the stigma associated with overweight and obesity.

According to, the location of fat on the body determines body shape and is associated with different biological functions and health outcomes. Gluteofemoral, or body fat distribution, in young women can indicate fertility, while abdominal fat can accompany negative health outcomes like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the web site says.

It's been said that having a pear-shaped body is better than an apple-shaped body. Fruit aside, I'm an apple. Excess belly fat can contribute to:

  • heart disease.

  • heart attacks.

  • high blood pressure.

  • stroke.

  • type 2 diabetes.

  • asthma.

  • breast cancer.

  • colon cancer

As a former breast cancer survivor, there is some truth to this. I was never that much overweight but enough to have to buy clothes in a size larger than I would have preferred. Over time, I've been able to reduce my weight but as I get older, it's harder and harder. It's easy to see why people gain weight. Food tastes good and it's really hard to not want it.

It's also been said that obese or extremely overweight people are less likely to get jobs, and in the romance world, easy to overlook. A heavy woman is much more likely to be passed over than someone who is slim and athletic. That's why many women (and men) who are overweight try to post photos of themselves at earlier ages, or from more attractive poses (nothing shot from the chin up) on social media match sites.

"Fat stigma is a socially acceptable form of prejudice that contributes to poor medical outcomes and negatively affects educational and economic opportunities. But a new study has found that not all overweight and obese body shapes are equally stigmatized," newswise reports. As I said earlier, scientists from Arizona State University and Oklahoma State University (OSU), in a recent study, have shown that women with abdominal fat around their midsection are more stigmatized than those with gluteofemoral fat on the hips, buttocks and thighs.

“Fat stigma is pervasive, painful and results in huge mental and physical health costs for individuals,” newswise quotes Jaimie Arona Krems, assistant professor of psychology at OSU and first author on the paper. “We found that even when women are the same height and weight, they were stigmatized differently—and this was driven by whether they carried abdominal or gluteofemoral fat. Indeed, in one case, people stigmatized obese women with gluteofemoral fat more than objectively smaller women with abdominal fat. This finding suggests that body shape is sometimes even more important than overall size in driving fat stigma.”

“When people try to understand what others are like, and what characteristics they possess, they often rely on easily visible cues to make their best guesses," adds Steven Neuberg, co-author of the study and Foundation Professor and Chair of the ASU Department of Psychology. "We’ve known for a long time that people use weight as such a cue. Given that different fats, on different parts of the body, are associated with different outcomes, we wanted to explore whether people also systematically use body shape as a cue."

The study participants stigmatized obese women more than overweight women and also overweight women more than average-weight women, the web site points out. "But women with overweight who weighed the same were less stigmatized when they carried gluteofemoral fat than when they carried abdominal fat. This same pattern held for women with obesity, suggesting that body shape, in addition to overall body size, drives stigmatization."

Interestingly, yesterday I wrote how doctors are now advising women with HER2 cancer to not lose weight. But the Journal of Clinical Medicine wrote in 2019 that excessive fat in the body can "contribute to not only the development but also the progression and metastasis of various malignancies including breast cancer. A number of studies have demonstrated the increased risk of recurrence and mortality in obese and overweight patients."

So, who do you believe? Keeping a healthy weight has long been known to be preferable to being overweight. You feel better, you look better. And you will live longer. So whether your excess tissue is in your belly, or your thighs, stay active and try to ignore those cronuts, or only on holidays!

*I write about health not only because I'm interested in it but also because I publish nationally in health and general media about ongoing issues and facts. If you have a subject you'd like to see covered, you can reach me at

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