Obesity stigma prevalent in online news coverage

May 6, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Obese individuals shown in online news images are frequently portrayed in a negative and stigmatizing way, according to a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. The study is published online in the Journal of Health Communication.

Researchers coded and analyzed over 400 images of overweight and obese individuals that accompanied news reports about obesity from five major news websites.

The researchers found that 72% of the images depicted an overweight or in a negative and stigmatizing way. More than half of obese people were portrayed in images with only their abdomens or lower bodies shown, whereas non-overweight people were never portrayed in this way.

Compared to thin individuals who were depicted in a flattering manner, obese individuals were more likely to be portrayed as headless, without clothing (e.g., bare stomach), eating and drinking, and portrayed from unflattering side or rear views.

"News photographs degrade and dehumanize obese individuals when they show them with their heads cut out of images, as isolated body parts, or with an unflattering emphasis on ," said Rebecca Puhl, co-author of the study and Director of Research at the Rudd Center. "They become symbols of an epidemic rather than valued members of society."

The study also found that obese individuals were less likely to be shown wearing professional-looking clothing, and were far less likely to be portrayed as experts, advocates, journalists, or professionals compared to thinner individuals.

Puhl concluded, "The news media has tremendous power to shape the opinion of policy makers and the public, and can play an important role in reducing pervasive societal weight by changing the visual content of their news reports about obesity."

Explore further: Shame on you: tough-love approach to obesity may backfire

More information: The Rudd Center offers a set of media guidelines and a free image gallery to aid journalists, photo editors, bloggers, advertisers and other influencers in the creation and delivery of fair, unbiased coverage of obesity and weight-related topics on television, in print and online. These comprehensive resources can be found online at www.yaleruddcenter.org

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Higher intelligence score means better physical performance

August 14, 2015

New research reveals a distinct association between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent midlife physical performance. The higher intelligence score, the better physical performance, the study reveals. ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) May 06, 2011
As I have noticed FLOTUS Manchelle imaged. Her man says, "Don't get between Manchelle and a tamale!"
FrankHerbert
1 / 5 (4) May 07, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, the ever racist doug_huffman.
tjcoop3
not rated yet May 07, 2011
As a large man this has long been an issue observed. All they needed to do was ask a few of us. We already knew if you are overweight or a Christian you are often portrayed negatively. Gays, short statured folk, brown folk, women etc. are no longer politically correct targets. Fat or God fearing however...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.