• Shawn Wilson, Ph.D.

Fat Bias and the Relationship Between Genetics and Our Experiences: News Roundup

Photo credit: Randall Bruder

In this News Roundup, two topics are discussed. First is an article by the New York Times that discusses how biases against people who are overweight start in early childhood. The second is not a news article, but instead a group of four TED Talks called Hardwired that all talk about how our genetics and experiences impact each other.

Fat Bias

A New York Times (NYT) article discusses research that has found biases against overweight individuals develops in childhood, with evidence being found that children as young as three years old can engage in weight-based discrimination and bullying.

Weight bias often impairs an individual's ability to lose weight and keep off weight as the bias can cause an individual to feel additional stress, depressive symptoms, and shame. I do not know about you, but often the last thing I am thinking about when I am stressed out and feeling down is to exercise more and eat super healthy foods. Instead I am more likely to eat (unhealthy) comfort foods and watch some Netflix. For those that are overweight, weight bias can become a vicious cycle of being shamed for being overweight, which can lead to unhealthy coping strategies like overeating or reducing one's exercise, which lead to more shaming from others, etc.

This pattern is supported by research. For example, as reported in the NYT article, a study of overweight and obese adults attempting to lose weight found that implicit and explicit weight-based stigma was associated with greater caloric intake (i.e., eating more), less exercise, less weight loss, and a higher chance of dropping out of the weight-loss program.

It is clear that bias and shaming people for their weight does not lead people to lead healthier, happier lives. Weight bias impacts many people, including people who are average weight, although overweight individuals are more often the target of weight-based bullying and discrimination.

Hopefully more interventions specifically target weight-based biases that we hold, whether explicit or implicit. The devastating impact of weight bias should encourage us all to be mindful of our language around others, examine any prejudicial attitudes we hold about those who are overweight, and challenge our thinking to be less judgmental and more accepting and understanding. That is probably a good philosophy in general, but it is helpful to be reminded how our judgments of others can negative impact other individuals' well-being.

Genetics and Our Experiences

National Public Radio hosts something called TED Radio Hour which takes a topic each week and finds a group of TED Talks that discuss the theme. Such a cool idea, and I am a little embarrassed that I just discovered this.

This week, the topic is called Hardwired and the TED Talks discuss research that have examined how our genetics and experiences impact each other. The Hardwired show is a collection of four TED Talks.

The first TED Talk is by neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University who examines how stress impacts our personality and social behavior. He has a recent book called Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which attempts to answer the question why do we do the things we do?

The second TED Talk is by Moshe Szyf, a pharmacology professor at McGill University who studies epigenetics, which is when organisms change due to changes in gene expression but not due to changes in the DNA itself. OK so epigenetics is super confusing, but all the more reason to watch the TED Talk and learn more!

The third TED Talk is by Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who talks about how trauma can impact children's genetic makeup and results in changes in health that can last across the lifetime. Dr. Harris is the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness, which uses a multidisciplinary approach to treat traumatic stress in children.

Lastly, the fourth TED Talk is by psychologist Brian Little from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Little's talk discusses how our personality and biology are not completely set in stone, especially if we have something he calls a "core life project." Dr. Little wrote a book called Me, Myself, and Us, that explores how human personality changes our lives and what we can do about it.

So, a lot of great research and interesting ideas for us to read, listen, and think about as we head into the long weekend. Hope everyone has a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend!

New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/well/live/fat-bias-starts-early-and-takes-a-serious-toll.html

National Public Radio TED Radio Hour: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/545024014/hardwired

The Clinically Relevant Insights Blog, part of ShawnWilsonPhD.com, shares news and research regarding psychology and wellness.

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#obesity #bias #genetics #geneXenvironment #epigenetics

© 2020 by Shawn Wilson