Professor Gail Sahar writes about blame, obesity drugs in Psychology Today

Professor Gail SaharShe explores whether new weight-loss medicines will shift stigma around the struggle

It is human nature to assign fault for real or perceived societal problems. In the case of obesity, attributing blame to individuals rather than to the complexity of factors that contribute to the struggle fuels the stigma around the disease that affects more than 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to Wheaton College Professor of Psychology Gail Sahar.

What will happen regarding attitudes now that there is an armory of new medical options being introduced in the weight-loss battle? In her February column for Psychology Today, titled Thinking Socially, she explores this and other thought-provoking questions in “How Will Weight Loss Drugs Affect Obesity Stigma? Americans have long blamed the overweight. That might be about to change.

Pointing out that Oprah Winfrey has talked about the blame and shame she has experienced from others, as well as herself, over the years before her recent dramatic weight loss, Sahar writes, “Americans tend to have particularly negative attitudes toward the overweight when they blame the individual for the problem.”

“The longstanding American belief that obesity is the fault of the individual is being challenged by new weight-loss drugs that have become all the rage. These drugs are shifting the narrative about obesity from a willpower problem to a biological one,” continues Sahar, who studies attitudes about controversial social issues.

“Though it is too early to tell what effects this change will have on society, it is likely that the shame associated with being overweight will decline. When something is out of one’s personal control, it is generally not stigmatized.”