The way that persons with obesity are portrayed by the media profoundly shapes the public's understanding and attitudes about persons of higher weight. Television, movies, and social media often reinforce negative attitudes about body weight and perpetuate weight bias throughout our society. For example, characters with larger bodies depicted in popular TV shows and movies are often negatively stereotyped (e.g., portrayed as greedy, sloppy, or unpopular) and are seen in stereotypical roles (e.g., overeating unhealthy foods and being lazy). These characters are also often the targets of direct verbal ridicule or "fat jokes."
People with obesity are highly stigmatized in the United States and suffer from inequalities in employment, education, and health care as a result of weight discrimination. Studies show that in addition to the mainstream media, the news media is an especially pervasive source of stigmatization against persons with obesity. A Rudd Center content analysis of videos that accompany online news found that 65% of videos paired with online news stories about obesity stigmatize adults with overweight or obesity, and 77% of videos stigmatize youth with overweight or obesity. Another Rudd Center content analysis of online images in new stories found that 72% of photographs paired with online news stories about obesity are stigmatizing toward individuals with obesity. News photographs and videos tend to portray individuals of higher weight as headless (i.e. only from the shoulders down), from unflattering angles (e.g. with only their abdomens or lower bodies shown), and engaging in stereotypical behaviors (e.g. eating unhealthy foods or engaging in sedentary behavior). These images degrade and dehumanize individuals with obesity, while spreading false assumptions and oversimplifying the complex issue of obesity.
There are important opportunities for the media to play a role in efforts to help reduce societal prejudice towards individuals affected by obesity. The Rudd Center has created resources to be used by media professionals, educators, and health professionals for the purpose of improving media content related to obesity and improving respectful portrayals of people regardless of their body size.