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Does The Media Depiction Of Obesity Hinder Efforts To Address It?



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A study by Paula Brochu and colleagues, published in Health Psychology, suggests that the often unflattering depiction of people living with obesity in the media (as in the typical images of headless, dishevelled, ill-clothed individuals, usually involved in stereotypical activities – holding a hamburger in one hand and a large pop in the other or pinching their “love handles”), may well play a role in the lack of public support for policies to address this issue.

The researchers asked participants to read an online news story about a policy to deny fertility treatment to obese women that was accompanied by a nonstigmatizing, stigmatizing, or no image of an obese couple. A balanced discussion of the policy was presented, with information both questioning the policy as discriminatory and supporting the policy because of weight-related medical complications.

The findings of the study show that participants who viewed the article accompanied by the nonstigmatizing image were less supportive of the policy to deny obese women fertility treatment and recommended the policy less strongly than participants who viewed the same article accompanied by the stigmatizing image.

Given that negative and stigmatising images of people with obesity are the rule rather than the exception in media reports about obesity, the authors suggest that simply eliminating stigmatizing media portrayals of obesity may help reduce bias and foster more support for policies to address this problem.

Readers may wish to visit the Canadian Obesity Network’s image bank Picture Perfect At Any Size of non-stigmatizing images of people living with obesity that are available for free download for educational and media purposes.

@DrSharma
Copenhagen, DK

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