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Perceived weight-related stigma, loneliness, and mental wellbeing during COVID-19 in people with obesity: A cross-sectional study from ten European countries.

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Jones, Rebecca A 
Christiansen, Paul 
Maloney, Niamh G 
Duckworth, Jay J 
Hugh-Jones, Siobhan 


BACKGROUND: Increased weight-related stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need to minimise the impacts on mental wellbeing. We investigated the relationship between the perceived changes in the representation of obesity in the media and mental wellbeing during the pandemic in a sample of people with obesity across 10 European countries. We also investigated the potential moderating effect of loneliness. METHODS: Between September to December 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, participants reported data on demographics, mental wellbeing (measured by World Health Organisation Five Wellbeing Index and Patient Health Questionaire-4), loneliness (measured by De Jong Gierveld short scale), and perceived change in the representation of obesity in media (measured by a study-specific question) using the online, cross-sectional EURopean Obesity PatiEnt pANdemic Survey (EUROPEANS). Data were analysed using linear mixed-effects models, controlling for age, gender, body mass index, and shielding status, with random incept for country. RESULTS: The survey was completed by 2882 respondents. Most identified as female (56%) and reported their ethnicity as White or White-mix (92%). The total sample had a mean age of 41 years and a BMI of 35.4 kg/m2. During the peak of the pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic, perceiving more negative representation of people with obesity on social media was associated with worse psychological distress, depression, and wellbeing. Perceiving more positive representation, compared to no change in representation, of people with obesity on television was associated with greater wellbeing, yet also higher psychological distress and anxiety. Loneliness, as a moderator, explained ≤0.3% of the variance in outcomes in any of the models. CONCLUSIONS: Perceiving negative representation of obesity on social media was associated with poorer mental wellbeing outcomes during the pandemic; positive representation on television was associated with both positive and negative mental wellbeing outcomes. We encourage greater media accountability when representing people with obesity.



Journal Title

Int J Obes (Lond)

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
MRC (MC_UU_00006/6)
The EUROPEANS study was funded by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the European Coalition for People with obesity (EPCO). RAJ and ALA are supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) (Grant MC_UU_00006/6). For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.