Objectives: In the popular news media, public health officials routinely emphasize the health risks of obesity and portray weight as under personal control. These messages may increase support for policies designed to reduce rates of obesity, but can also increase antifat stigma. Less often, the media cover "Health at Every Size" or "Fat Rights" perspectives, which may have the opposite effects. We investigated how exposure to different "fat frames" shifts attitudes about weight and support for obesity policies. Methods: Across four experiments (N = 2187), people read constructed news articles framing fatness as negative (unhealthy, controllable, acceptable to stigmatize) or positive (healthy, uncontrollable, unacceptable to stigmatize). Results: Compared to people who read fat-positive frames, people who read fat-negative frames expressed more: belief in the health risks of being fat (ds = 0.95-1.22), belief weight is controllable (ds = 0.38- 0.55), support for charging obese people more for health insurance (ds = 0.26-0.77), antifat prejudice (in three out of four experiments, ds = 0.28-0.39), willingness to discriminate against fat people (ds = 0.39-0.71), and less willingness to celebrate body-size diversity (ds = 0.37-0.64). They were also less willing to say that women at the lower end of the obese range could be healthy at their weights. Effects on support for public policies, however, were generally small and/or non-significant. Compared to a control condition, exposure to fat-positive frames generally shifted attitudes more than fat-negative frames. In Experiment 4, adding a message about the unacceptability of weight-based discrimination to unhealthy/controllable news articles only reduced antifat stigma on one of three measures compared to articles adding a discrimination-acceptable message. Conclusions: Exposure to different news frames of fat can shift beliefs about weight-related health risks and weight-based stigma. Shifting policy attitudes, however, is more challenging.
Frederick, D. A., Saguy, A. C., Sandhu, G. & Mann, T. Effects of competing news media frames of weight on antifat stigma, beliefs about weight and support for obesity-related public policies. Int J Obes 40, 543–549 (2016).
Macmillan Publishers Limited