BACKGROUND: Obesity stigma has been shown to increase binge eating, whilst positive regard for eating disorders (EDs) may increase dietary restriction which can also lead to binge eating and weight gain. In the context of increasing prevalence of both obesity and EDs exploring community attitudes towards these illnesses may uncover new variables worthy of consideration in population health campaigns. The aim of the study was to explore community perceived stigma and conversely favourable regard toward eating disorder (ED) sufferers of varying weight status, and understand how the attitudes of obese individuals may differ from those of non-obese individuals. Data for this purpose were derived from interviews with individuals participating in a general population health survey. Vignettes of an underweight female with Anorexia Nervosa (AN), a normal weight male with an atypical eating disorder (NWED) and an obese female with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) were presented to three randomly selected sub-samples of n = 983, 1033 and 1030 respectively. Questions followed that assessed participants' attitudes towards and beliefs about the person described in the vignette and their eating behaviours. RESULTS: Sixty-six per cent of participants who responded to the obese BED vignette believed that there would be discrimination against the person described (primarily because of her weight). Corresponding figures were for the AN and NWED vignettes were 48% and 35%, respectively. A positive regard for weight-loss or body-image-enhancing ED behaviours was reported 'occasionally' or more often by 8.8% of respondents to the AN vignette and by 27.5% of respondents to the NWED vignette. Positive regard for ED behaviours was significantly more likely in obese participants (AN: 15%; NWED: 43%). CONCLUSION: The findings support integrated ED and obesity prevention programs that address weight stigma and the social desirability of ED behaviours in vulnerable individuals.
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- anorexia nervosa