Linguistic Predictors of Weight-related Experiences in a Sample of Overweight and Obese Individuals

Open Access
Barton, Jillian Elizabeth
Area of Honors:
Biobehavioral Health
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Joshua Morrison Smyth, Thesis Supervisor
  • Helen Marie Kamens, Honors Advisor
  • Language
  • Linguistic Predictors
  • Weight
  • BMI
  • Experiences
  • Weight Discrimination
  • Weight Stigma
  • Stigma
  • Discrimination
  • Perceived Discrimination
  • Health
  • Linguistic Analysis
  • Word use
  • Narratives
  • Body
  • Weight Vigilance
  • Vigilance
  • Obesity Stigma
Weight discrimination is a commonly reported experience in virtually every social environment, including educational institutions, workplace settings, healthcare environments, the media, and within interpersonal relationships (Puhl & Heuer, 2010). It is estimated to be the fourth most prevalent cause of perceived discrimination among Americans (Puhl, Andreyeva & Brownell, 2008). A number of psychological and physical health effects are associated with frequent reports of weight stigma and discrimination, including, but not limited to, body image distress (Annis et al., 2004), lower levels of self-acceptance (Carr & Friedman, 2005), increased risk of engaging in binge-eating behaviors, increased risk of anxiety and mood disorders (Puhl & Suh, 2015; Hatzenbuehler, Keyes & Hasin, 2009), and increased risk of weight gain (Puhl & Heuer, 2010). Therefore, specific populations vulnerable to weight discrimination, such as overweight and obese individuals, need to be studied further, particularly using innovative methods. Language and linguistic analysis has the potential to reveal a considerable amount of information about individuals, including their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, personalities, social relationships, and may even be telling of their health status (Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010). Computerized text analysis tools, such as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), serve as unique methods to examine word use, and may be useful in examining narratives of weight-related experiences. The present study examined how overweight and obese individuals write about themselves in response to a prompt about meaningful weight-related experiences during a larger study. LIWC was used to analyze participant’s writing responses with an emphasis on relevant word categories (i.e., body-related words, negative emotion words, anxiety words and social processes words). Primary analyses examined if BMI predicted body-related language and social processes words and if sex was a moderator of these relationships. Further analyses examined if weight vigilance predicted anxiety words and if weight stigma predicted negative emotion words. Findings indicated that BMI was largely unrelated to linguistic indicators, as was internalized stigma and weight vigilance. However, participant sex moderated the association between BMI and the proportion of social process words. Additional exploratory analyses conducted to supplement the original hypotheses found that weight stigma was a positive predictor of social process words, weight vigilance was a positive predictor of perceptual process words, and body appreciation was a negative predictor of sad words in participant’s writing. The present study addresses the need to study weight-related experiences, particularly weight discrimination, in overweight and obese individuals through language, in an attempt to better understand and contribute to reducing obesity stigma and its associated health effects.