Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

J. Kevin Thompson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jamie Goldenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent J. Small, Ph.D.


AMA, disease, obesity, weight-biased attitudes, weight-biased beliefs


In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) made the highly controversial decision to designate obesity a disease. Proponents predicted the decision would lead to reduced weight-related stigma, whereas opponents predicted designating a third of the population as “diseased” would exacerbate stigma. To determine the effects of defining obesity as a disease on explicit and implicit weight-biased attitudes and explicit weight-biased beliefs, female undergraduate students (N = 146) were randomly assigned to one of two groups: disease or lifestyle. Participants in the disease group (n = 71) were asked to read an article describing obesity as a disease caused by biology and genes; participants in the lifestyle group (n = 75) read an article describing obesity as the result of personal choices, including over-consumption of food and inactivity. Explicit weight-biased attitudes and beliefs were measured pre- and post-exposure to the article. Change in beliefs about the controllability of weight was examined as a potential meditator of the relationship between group and explicit weight-biased attitudes; and body mass index (BMI), health orientation, and fitness orientation were examined as potential moderators. Results revealed a significant interaction between group and time on weight-biased beliefs. Participants in the disease group exhibited stronger beliefs that obesity is outside a person’s control from pre- to post-exposure, whereas participants in the lifestyle group exhibited a weakening in these beliefs over the same time period. Contrary to hypotheses, this change in beliefs about the controllability of weight did not extend to weight-biased attitudes.

Included in

Psychology Commons