Active Versus Inactive Portrayals of Children With Obesity

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Public health campaigns targeting childhood obesity have been criticized for being unnecessarily stigmatizing. Some images used in these campaigns depict children with obesity in a sad and stereotyped manner. Children who are victimized because of their weight suffer a spectrum of psychological and physical health problems, and bias against people who have excess weight emerges in children as young as 3 years old. A within-subjects experiment tested whether preschool children would rate children with obesity portrayed in active nonstereotypical roles more positively than those portrayed in inactive stereotypical roles. In addition, we sought to measure gender differences in attitudes toward the children in the images. Findings demonstrate that boys and girls rate children with obesity in images differently depending on how they are depicted. Boys had a more favorable impression of children with obesity shown in active roles than in inactive roles, whereas this did not tend to be true for girls. These findings offer hope that the use of nonstigmatizing media portrayals of children with obesity may decrease discriminatory attitudes and behaviors and promote greater tolerance and acceptance. Although girls’ antifat attitudes may be particularly resistant, images depicting overweight individuals in a wide range of roles may at least challenge weight-based stereotypes and prevent antifat attitudes from worsening, even among children at the preschool level.

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