237267 Media portrayal of obese persons: The impact of positive versus stigmatizing images on public attitudes and image preferences

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rebecca Pearl, BA , Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Rebecca Puhl, PhD , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Kelly D. Brownell, PhD , Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Pervasive bias against overweight and obese persons in society is associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes for those who are stigmatized. Media images depicting obese persons in a stereotypical and stigmatizing manner perpetuate this bias, so it is hypothesized that non-stereotypical, positive images would reduce biased attitudes towards obese persons. To test this hypothesis, two online surveys were administered in which participants viewed either a stigmatizing or positive image of an obese model. The survey in Experiment 1 (N = 151) featured either a Caucasian or African American obese woman, while the survey in Experiment 2 (N = 147) depicted either a Caucasian male or female model. Multiple linear regression models were used to analyze outcomes for Social Distance Attitudes towards the obese persons depicted in the images, along with image preferences. Results showed that participants expressed stronger Social Distance Attitudes towards the obese model in the stigmatizing photos versus the positive photos, and there was a stronger preference for the positive photos than the stigmatizing photos. These results were consistent regardless of the race or gender of the obese model pictured. The findings from this study support the substitution of stigmatizing images in the media with positive, non-stereotypical images, with implications for reducing public bias and improving the physical and mental health of overweight and obese persons.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe weight bias and the associated physical and mental health outcomes 2. Compare the impact of stigmatizing versus positive images of obese persons on public attitudes 3. Discuss the role of the media in perpetuating weight bias

Keywords: Media, Obesity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I work in conjunction with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity on weight bias initiatives. I am also a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.