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Obesity Stigma: Is the 'Food Addiction' Label Feeding the Problem?

Lookup NU author(s): Michael Orwin, Dr Elizabeth Evans



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Obesity is often attributed to an addiction to high-calorie foods. However, the effect of "food addiction" explanations on weight-related stigma remains unclear. In two online studies, participants (n = 439, n = 523, respectively, recruited from separate samples) read a vignette about a target female who was described as 'very overweight'. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three conditions which differed in the information provided in the vignette: (1) in the "medical condition", the target had been diagnosed with food addiction by her doctor; (2) in the "self-diagnosed condition", the target believed herself to be a food addict; (3) in the control condition, there was no reference to food addiction. Participants then completed questionnaires measuring target-specific stigma (i.e., stigma towards the female described in the vignette), general stigma towards obesity (both studies), addiction-like eating behavior and causal beliefs about addiction (Study 2 only). In Study 1, participants in the medical and self-diagnosed food addiction conditions demonstrated greater target-specific stigma relative to the control condition. In Study 2, participants in the medical condition had greater target-specific stigma than the control condition but only those with low levels of addiction-like eating behavior. There was no effect of condition on general weight-based stigma in either study. These findings suggest that the food addiction label may increase stigmatizing attitudes towards a person with obesity, particularly within individuals with low levels of addiction-like eating behavior.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ruddock HK, Orwin M, Boyland EJ, Evans EH, Hardman CA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nutrients

Year: 2019

Volume: 11

Issue: 9

Online publication date: 04/09/2019

Acceptance date: 30/08/2019

Date deposited: 17/09/2019

ISSN (print): 2072-6643

ISSN (electronic): 2072-6643

Publisher: MDPI


DOI: 10.3390/nu11092100

PubMed id: 31487868


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