Professor Michael Berg’s interest in obesity research

-I have always been very interested in understanding stereotyping and prejudice and their effect on our lives.

As an undergraduate, I worked in a psychological research lab where we examined the everyday decision-making processes people used to sort others into various categories (by gender, race, age, attractiveness, etc.). I even wrote my honors thesis on how to reduce stereotyping in hiring decisions and went to graduate school in social psychology to study stereotyping and prejudice.

During graduate school, I became fascinated with the then emerging area of health psychology that at the time was largely just a specific form of applied social psychology. I got further training in health psychology and began studying HIV and the interaction of the social environment and personal attitudes on medical adherence. Then, about two years ago, my wife (who is a clinical health psychologist) started working on a study that connected body dissatisfaction and obesity prejudice. Through our discussions of her research, my interest in the stereotyping was renewed and I realized that I was particularly interested in how the obesity epidemic was making weight-based prejudice worse, not better. From there I developed my first study linking weight-based prejudice to obesity-focused public policy.

It’s also worth noting that I was very sick as an undergrad with a rare disorder called Cushing’s Disease. The illness caused me to gain more than 60 pounds, though in appearance I looked closer to 100 or more pounds heavier. After I was cured, I naturally went back to my usual average weight. Given the short time duration and the dramatic change in appearance, I couldn’t help but notice how differently I was treated as a smaller and then heavier individual. Even little comments like, “hey, big guy,” though surely not intended to do harm, felt very hurtful. I hope my experiences from that time have helped me to be a better and more insightful researcher on the topic.