Exploring the Role of Weight Stigma in the Development of Eating Disorders among Food-Insecure People

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The Ohio State University

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Although a small body of research exists that describes the relationship of food insecurity (FI), eating disorder (ED) pathology, and the role of weight stigma (WS) in the development of EDs, little is known about the specific impact of WS on food-insecure people, let alone those among them with significant, clinical ED pathology. The aims of this mixed-methodological study were (1) to quantitatively describe the nature and prevalence of EDs and WS internalization in a group of food-insecure people (n=45) in central Ohio; and (2) to derive themes governing compensatory disordered eating behaviors (DEBs) in order to qualitatively describe the role that experiencing WS plays in the development of eating disorders, and particularly the use of compensatory disordered eating behaviors (i.e., vomiting, exercise, restriction, laxative and diuretic abuse) among a food-insecure sample. Participants were recruited from a central Ohio food pantry. Survey data gathered from participants was analyzed to describe the prevalence and severity of FI, ED pathology, WS internalization, and relationships between these variables. Consistent with prior studies, this study demonstrates that FI is correlated with high rates of ED pathology, and that WS internalization is significantly correlated with ED pathology (P <.001). The results of this quantitative examination have been used to purposively sample respondents for the upcoming qualitative portion of this study. Consistency across studies examining EDs and FI as well as the influence of WS internalization on ED pathology implies that this is likely a widespread issue. Further qualitative and intervention research is needed to understand the systemic issues facing this population, potential barriers to treatment, and to determine specific and culturally competent care and support needs of this population.



weight stigma, anti-fat bias, fatphobia, eating disorders, disordered eating, food insecurity