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J Health Commun. 2011 Apr;16(4):359-71. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2010.535108.

Obesity in the news: do photographic images of obese persons influence antifat attitudes?

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA.


News coverage of obesity has increased dramatically in recent years, and research shows that media content may contribute to negative public attitudes toward obese people. However, no work has assessed whether photographic portrayals of obese people that accompany news stories affect attitudes. In the present study, the authors used a randomized experimental design to test whether viewing photographic portrayals of an obese person in a stereotypical or unflattering way (versus a nonstereotypical or flattering portrayal) could increase negative attitudes about obesity, even when the content of an accompanying news story is neutral. The authors randomly assigned 188 adult participants to read a neutral news story about the prevalence of obesity that was paired with 1 of 4 photographic portrayals of an obese adult (or no photograph). The authors subsequently assessed attitudes toward obese people using the Fat Phobia Scale. Participants in all conditions expressed a moderate level of fat phobia (M = 3.83, SD = 0.58). Results indicated that participants who viewed the negative photographs expressed more negative attitudes toward obese people than did those who viewed the positive photographs. Implications of these findings for the media are discussed, with emphasis on increasing awareness of weight bias in health communication and journalistic news reporting.

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