Background

Studies suggest a multitude of negative consequences associated with internalized weight stigma within adult populations, including a reduced ability to lose weight and poor mental health outcomes. Less is known about the prevalence of weight stigma among college students.

Methods

Students at a large Midwestern university completed an anonymous, online cross-sectional survey. Participants self-reported height and weight to determine BMI and completed measures of anxiety, stress, depression, and internalized weight stigma.

Results

A total of 328 students provided complete data and are included in this analysis. The majority of participants were female (n=256, 81%), and Caucasian (n=292, 89%). Eighty-nine participants (28.1%) had obesity based on BMI classification with no difference in prevalence between genders. The degree of internalized weight stigma was higher among individuals with obesity (m=40.1±7.8) compared to those with overweight (m=32.6±8.8) or normal weight (m=28.3±10.0) classifications (P<.0001). Female respondents reported higher overall total weight stigma (m=33.5±10.3, P < 0.05) and higher fear of enacted stigma (m=14.0±5.8, P<0.01) compared to males. Spearman correlations demonstrated a moderate association between higher reported weight stigma and measures of anxiety (rho=.342, P<0.001), depression (rho=.465, P<0.001), and stress (rho=.373, P<0.001); these associations were not diminished by controlling for BMI.

Conclusions

Students attending college internalized demonstrate weight stigma trends consistent with other populations. Consideration should be given to potential gender differences regarding weight stigma among college students. There is evidence that higher internalized weight stigma is related to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress among students.