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A multinational examination of weight bias: predictors of anti-fat attitudes across four countries



As rates of obesity have increased throughout much of the world, so too have bias and prejudice toward people with higher body weight (that is, weight bias). Despite considerable evidence of weight bias in the United States, little work has examined its extent and antecedents across different nations. The present study conducted a multinational examination of weight bias in four Western countries with comparable prevalence rates of adult overweight and obesity.


Using comprehensive self-report measures with 2866 individuals in Canada, the United States, Iceland and Australia, the authors assessed (1) levels of explicit weight bias (using the Fat Phobia Scale and the Universal Measure of Bias) and multiple sociodemographic predictors (for example, sex, age, race/ethnicity and educational attainment) of weight-biased attitudes and (2) the extent to which weight-related variables, including participants’ own body weight, personal experiences with weight bias and causal attributions of obesity, play a role in expressions of weight bias in different countries.


The extent of weight bias was consistent across countries, and in each nation attributions of behavioral causes of obesity predicted stronger weight bias, as did beliefs that obesity is attributable to lack of willpower and personal responsibility. In addition, across all countries the magnitude of weight bias was stronger among men and among individuals without family or friends who had experienced this form of bias.


These findings offer new insights and important implications regarding sociocultural factors that may fuel weight bias across different cultural contexts, and for targets of stigma-reduction efforts in different countries.

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We thank the Canadian Obesity Network, the Directorate of Health in Iceland and participating universities for their collaboration on this project. We also thank Ximena Ramos Salas for reading an earlier version of the paper and for her assistance in recruitment of Canadian Obesity Network (CON) participants. This study was funded by a donation from the Rudd Foundation.

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Correspondence to R M Puhl.

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Puhl, R., Latner, J., O'Brien, K. et al. A multinational examination of weight bias: predictors of anti-fat attitudes across four countries. Int J Obes 39, 1166–1173 (2015).

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