Positive media portrayals of obese individuals reduce weight stigma

February 21, 2012 By Andrea Wilson

(Medical Xpress) -- Presenting obese individuals in a positive, non-stereotypical manner in the media could help reduce weight-biased attitudes held by the public, finds a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale. The study, published online in Health Psychology, investigates the impact on public attitudes and preferences of both stigmatizing and positive portrayals of obese individuals in the media.

Researchers conducted two online experiments in which participants viewed either a stigmatizing or non-stigmatizing photograph of an obese individual. Participants were then asked a series of questions concerning the model featured in the image and their general toward obese persons.

The study revealed that those who viewed stigmatizing images expressed stronger toward than participants who viewed positive images.  Not only did the stigmatizing images lead to stronger negative attitudes towards obese individuals, but participants said that they preferred viewing the respectful images instead of the stigmatizing images.

The authors believe that outlets have the ability to shape public perceptions about health and social issues, and based on this study, they recommend substituting more respectful media portrayals rather than stigmatizing images of obese people. “Stigmatizing images of overweight and obese individuals portrayed as headless figures, not fully clothed, and engaging in stereotypical eating behaviors are common in the media,” according to Rebecca Pearl, lead author of the study and a Yale graduate student in psychology. “This study shows that by portraying obese individuals more respectfully, the public’s negative attitudes and stereotypes can be significantly reduced.”

In order to increase public support for obesity prevention and treatment efforts and reduce societal weight prejudice, the authors suggest that media should make a pledge against perpetuating negative stereotypes and use more respectful portrayals of obese persons.

“Recent anti-obesity campaigns have garnered considerable debate and criticism among parents, health professionals, and citizens about how obese individuals are portrayed in the media,” says co-author Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center’s director of research.  “Obese individuals who feel shamed or stigmatized because of their weight are much more likely to engage in harmful health behaviors. The media should give careful consideration to the kinds of images that are disseminated, so that children and adults who are struggling with obesity can be supported in their efforts to become healthier, rather than shamed and stigmatized.”

Explore further: Obesity stigma prevalent in online news coverage

Related Stories

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 ...

A doctor's words can enforce weight stigma

September 26, 2011
The language that health care providers use when discussing a child's weight with parents can reinforce negative weight-based stigma and jeopardize discussions about health, finds a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy ...

The stigma of obesity

September 26, 2011
Obesity stigma exists within many workplaces and cultural settings, often having a negative impact on individuals’ health, social behaviours and outcomes.

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

May 3, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Tough love may not be the way to motivate overweight and obese people to change their habits for the better, a new study suggests.

Recommended for you

Newly deciphered vitamin D regulatory pathway opens doors to clinical research

August 21, 2017
Biochemists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have deciphered the molecular mechanisms that underpin how the synthesis of the active form of vitamin D is regulated in the kidney, summing up decades of research in this ...

Clay-based antimicrobial packaging keeps food fresh

August 21, 2017
Sometimes it seems as if fresh fruits, vegetables and meats go bad in the blink of an eye. Consumers are left feeling frustrated, often turning to less expensive processed foods that last longer but are less nutritious. Now ...

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

0 comments

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.