Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 319–340 | Cite as

Shame, Blame, and Status Incongruity: Health and Stigma in Rural Brazil and the Urban United Arab Emirates

  • Lesley Jo Weaver
  • Sarah TrainerEmail author
Original Paper


Stigma is a powerful determinant of physical and mental health around the world, a perennial public health concern that is particularly resistant to change. This article builds from sociologist Erving Goffman’s classic conception of stigma as a unitary social phenomenon to explore the stigma attached to two seemingly dissimilar conditions: food insecurity in rural Brazil, and obesity in the urban United Arab Emirates. Our analyses underscore that both conditions are stigmatized because they represent a departure from a deeply-held social norm, and in both cases, self-stigma plays an important role. Furthermore, in both cases, the stigma associated with food insecurity and obesity is likely at least as harmful to personal wellbeing as are the biological consequences of these conditions. Finally, evidence increasingly links obesity and food insecurity causally. Our analyses suggest that these forms of stigma transcend individuals and are largely structural in their origins, and therefore that they are most likely to be improved through structural change.


Stigma Food insecurity Hunger Obesity Fat Brazil United Arab Emirates 



This study was funded by the Research Grants Committee of the University of Alabama and the National Science Foundation (Grant Number 0851478).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Lesley Jo Weaver and Sarah Trainer declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Obesity SolutionsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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