"Weight stigma is powerful, pervasive and destructive," said Marlene Schwartz, a Yale psychologist.In the English study, psychologists tested 144 female students reactions to two prom photos.
One showed a dapper, thin young man standing next to a svelte ringlet-haired woman. The other was the same photo altered to show the guy arm-in-arm with a very large, nicely dressed woman.
The volunteers took a quick look at one or the other of the pictures and then were asked their opinion of the man. They rated him from 1 to 5 on 50 negative adjectives -- called the "fat phobia scale" -- that people often use to describe obese people.
The man with the big woman was rated 22 percent more negatively than the same man with the thin companion. When seen with the large woman, he was more likely to be described as miserable, self-indulgent, passive, shapeless, depressed, weak, insignificant and insecure.
"It shows that people project negative attitudes associated with obesity not only on the obese but all those who associate with them," say researchers.
The study also found that students who were themselves overweight were more likely than usual to rate the man harshly when pictured with the obese partner.
Researchers also conducted a word quiz, called an implicit association test, to about 200 obesity professionals. The test, intended to measure bias, asks people to quickly link up words like "lazy," "stupid" and "worthless" on command with obese or thin people.
The results, described at this year's meeting, showed that obesity professionals were more apt to link the negative words with overweight people, even when trying not to.
Studies show that even preschoolers are more likely to describe overweight playmates as mean, ugly or stupid and overweight people are less likely to get into college, less likely to get hired and more likely to get fired.