Weight and diabetes stigma among people with type 2 diabetes

New American research highlights the double burden of diabetes and weight-related stigma among adults with type 2 diabetes

By Dr Elizabeth Holmes-Truscott

New research led by Assistant Professor Himmelstein shows the combined experience of both diabetes-related and weight-related stigma among adults with type 2 diabetes. Such stigma may include feeling or being judged, blamed, or treated differently by others due to diabetes and/or weight.

In this study, 1212 adults with type 2 diabetes living in America completed an online survey. They were asked about their experiences with weight and diabetes stigma, as well as general information about themselves. The data were examined to understand:

1) how common are weight and diabetes stigma among people with type 2 diabetes?

2) how common is weight stigma in the health care setting?

2) who is most likely to be affected by stigma?

Around half of the participants reported experiencing weight stigma. Rates of diabetes stigma were similar to what we have seen in our Australian research. There was a moderate, positive correlation between these two forms of stigma. That is, those reporting greater diabetes stigma also reported increased weight stigma.

Weight stigma was commonly experienced within the health care setting:

1) 26% reported their weight was a barrier to accessing health care.

2) 44% felt that their doctors judged them because of their weight.

3) 61% reported their doctors recommended diets to them, when they had not asked for this.

The people who reported most stigma were more likely to be younger, women, those with a higher income, and those with lower education. Adults with higher body mass index (BMI) also experienced greater weight stigma, as well as blame and judgment from others about their diabetes. However BMI was not related to other forms of diabetes stigma (self‐stigma or being treated differently).

This research demonstrates the need for increased efforts to reduce stigma about weight and diabetes. In particular, health professionals and health care settings need to pay attention to this issue.

Full Article: Himmelstein MS, Puhl RM. At multiple fronts: Diabetes stigma and weight stigma in adults with type 2 diabetes. Diabetic Medicine. 2021 Jan;38(1):e14387.

To read more of our research about diabetes stigma check out the ACBRD website.