Weight and Relationships Study

Excitingly for me, yesterday an article about a study I conducted with Professor Janet Latner from University of Hawaii was featured in the NZ Herald (If you’re overweight and looking for love, it pays to be a man: Article written by Simon Collins). The study will be in the July edition of Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. The Herald article resulted in a bit of a whirlwind day of media inquiries yesterday, including a couple of radio interviews which were a lot of fun!

Since the article only touched on some of the main findings from the study, I thought I’d write a summary of the main points here. And also say what I think are the main “take home messages”.

Our study about Weight Stigma in Existing Romantic Relationships.

(These findings are all overall trends and obviously don’t apply to every individual).

Main Findings.

Women who are heavier are less satisfied with their relationships, and are less confident than lighter women that their relationship will remain intact in future

(We asked people about their perceptions of their relationship quality and their confidence about whether they would still be together with their partner in 3 months, 12 months, and 5 years).

Our study further investigated why heavier women have lower quality relationships:

Based on our data these were the conclusions we drew.

Reason 1: Internalized weight stigma. Heavier women expect to be judged less positively on key interpersonal qualities (Warmth/trustworthiness: understanding, supportive, kind, good listener, sensitive, considerate).

Reason 2: Male partners rated heavier women as lower on “nice body” and as matching their attractiveness ideals less well.

Reason 3: Heavier women partner with men who have lower mate value in terms of attractiveness/vitality and status/resources.

(Attractiveness/vitality: sexy, nice body, attractive appearance, good lover, outgoing, adventurous.
Status/resources: successful, nice house, financially secure, dresses well, good job.)

Take Home Messages of This Study When Looked at Together With Past Research on the Topic.

Weight affects women’s confidence in their relationships. It’s not helpful to say this is “all in their heads” since there is an element of reality to overweight women being judged more negatively.

However, “nice body” is only one of the qualities people desire in a mate. 1. People differ in how important this is to them (and of course not everybody has the same definition of what a “nice body” is). And, 2. BOTH men and women typically rate interpersonal qualities (Warmth/trustworthiness: understanding, supportive, kind, good listener, sensitive, considerate) as more important to them than attractiveness.

Unsurprisingly the issue of weight stigma affects heavier women more than it affects heavier men.

In addition to the health issues associated with weight and the other consequences of weight stigma, the interpersonal problems weight stigma seems to cause further highlights the need for research and interventions to effectively combat this pervasive and harmful form of bias.

If you’re psychology PhD or psychology student interested in research on these topics, my co-author Professor Janet Latner has done lots of other great research (about Weight Stigma, Binge Eating, and Treatment of Obesity).

And, a lot of what I know about relationships (and how to do good quality psychology research) I learned from Professor Garth Fletcher, my former PhD supervisor at University of Canterbury. Garth is a top international relationships scientist and social psychology PhD.

Most of the questionnaires used in the Weight and Relationships study were developed by Professor Fletcher, and some of the most important research on what people look for in a potential mate and how people evaluate their existing partners and relationships is research he conducted.