257068 Fighting obesity or obese persons? An experimental assessment of obesity-related public health messages

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rebecca Puhl, PhD , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Jamie Lee Peterson, MA , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Joerg Luedicke, MS , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Jenny DePierre, BA , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Kelly King, MPH , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Obese persons are vulnerable to widespread societal stigma and discrimination because of their weight, which leads to numerous consequences for their emotional and physical health. As obesity rates have increased, so have public health campaigns designed to prevent and/or reduce weight gain. While these campaigns are well-meaning, some may be misguided in their attempts to improve health, and may inadvertently encourage weight bias and stigmatize individuals, ultimately creating barriers to treatment and reinforcing societal prejudice toward obese persons. Given the lack of formal assessment of stigma in these campaigns, this study examined public perceptions of obesity-related public health messages with specific emphasis on the extent to which messages promote stigmatization of obesity or obese people. Data were collected on-line from a nationally representative sample of 1,014 American adults. Participants viewed a random selection of 10 (from 30 total) messages from major obesity public health campaigns, and rated each message according to positive and negative descriptors, including whether it was stigmatizing or motivating. Participants responded most favorably to message themes of fruit and vegetable consumption, and general messages involving multiple health behaviors. Messages that have been publicly criticized for stigmatizing content received the most negative ratings from participants, and the lowest intentions to comply with message content. These findings have important implications for framing messages in public health campaigns to address obesity, and suggest that certain types of messages may lead to increased motivation for behavior change among the public, whereas others may be perceived as stigmatizing and instill less motivation.

Learning Areas:
Communication and informatics
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the prevalence and potential negative effects of weight bias toward obese persons 2. Identify messages and message themes that the public perceive to be stigmatizing, motivating, that elicit positive or negative reactions, and encourage compliance with message content 3. Discuss specific strategies that health departments and campaign designers can use to facilitate positive, health-promoting public campaigns, including specific strategies that promote stigma, decrease motivation, and should be avoided

Keywords: Obesity, Health Communications

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I graduated with my Master of Public Health in Behavioral Science from Rolins School of Public Health at Emory University in 2011. I am currently a Research Associate at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and have also worked as a research assistant for the CDC and NYC Department of Health.
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.