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High Weight, High Risk? Examining the Role of Weight Stigma in Suicidality

Grant Winners

  • Paula Brochu, Ph.D. – College of Psychology
  • Laurie Veillette, M.S. – College of Psychology
  • Jose Serrano, M.S. – College of Psychology
  • Matthew Seidl, M.S. – College of Psychology


  • Karen Grosby, Ed.D. – College of Psychology


Suicide prevention is a public health priority, as it is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017). According to the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior (Joiner, 2005), three factors predict whether people die by suicide: Perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and an acquired ability to die. Whereas recent systematic reviews report that body mass index (BMI) and completed suicide are inversely related, these reviews also report a positive association between BMI and attempted suicide and suicidal ideation (Klinitzke, Steinig, Bluher, Kersting, & Wagner, 2013; Zhang, Yan, Li, & McKeown, 2013). One mechanism that may clarify the association between body weight and suicide is weight stigma. Due to the pervasiveness and harm of weight stigma, higher body-weight people who experience weight stigma may be at increased risk for developing a desire and acquired ability to die. To examine the mechanisms by which weight stigma and suicidality may be associated, data will be collected from adults living in the United States using's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online data collection service that provides a large and diverse participant pool. Participants will be asked to complete validated measures assessing weight stigma, perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, acquired ability to die, and suicidality. Applying a weight stigma perspective to the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide, the model proposed in this research project hypothesizes an association between weight stigma (i.e., weight stigma internalization, weight stigma concerns, and perceived weight discrimination) and suicidality, mediated by perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and an acquired ability to die. If the hypotheses are supported, this research would support initiatives to address and reduce weight stigma that are evidence-based and theoretically-informed in an effort to prevent suicide and improve psychological well-being and overall quality of life.
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