The use of plus-sized models may be grounded in an attitude of acceptance and inclusiveness but it’s actually leading to an increase in obesity rates, says a study from B.C.’s Simon Fraser University.
The study, called “The (ironic) dove effect: Usage of acceptance cues for larger body types increases unhealthy behaviors” was published recently in the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
It says advertisers are using larger models because the average weight of the overall population has risen in much of the world. Many groups, say the researchers, have applauded this trend as sensitive and progressive. But the study found that rather than fostering healthier perceptions, the images are leading to increased food consumption, as being heavier is seen as more socially permissible. They say there is a “contagious” effect that creates a decreased motivation to live a healthier lifestyle.
“Although this study demonstrates that accepting larger bodies results is associated with negative consequences, research also shows that ‘fat-shaming’ -or stigmatizing such bodies – fails to improve motivation to lose weight,” says Brent McFerran, an SFU assistant professor who co-authored the study with Lily Lin, assistant professor at College of Business & Economics at California State University. “Since neither accepting nor stigmatizing larger bodies achieves the desired results, it would be beneficial for marketers and policy makers to instead find a middle ground – using images of people with a healthy weight, and more importantly, refraining from drawing attention to the body size issue entirely.”
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Recent research from a team at Georgia Southern University uncovered an alarming trend. Obese children, they say, don’t know they are obese anymore. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey the study compared data from boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 16 with that of 2500 others between 2007 and 2012. Using body mass index information, the researchers asked a straightforward question: “Do you consider yourself to be overweight, underweight, or just about the right weight?”
The study found the latter group was far more likely to regard a high body-mass index as normal.
“Within a short time scale, the likelihood that overweight or obese teens believe that they are overweight declined by almost 30%,” said Dr. Jian Zhang, who worked on the study.
In another study, Zhang found that parents of overweight children are also becoming less able to identify whether or not their children are overweight.
“The society as a whole is stuck with a vicious cycle,” he says. “Parents incorrectly believe their kids are healthy, they are less likely to take action, and so it increases the likelihood that their kids will become even less healthy.”
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one-in-four Canadians is now obese. The OECD warns that the trend is affecting most all developed nations, and some of the long-term numbers are tough to swallow. In the United States, fewer than 15 per cent of people were obese in 1972, but that number has climbed to nearly 35 per cent today.