Weight Bias & Stigma > Media

The weight bias present in the media is a striking example of its social acceptability. Studies show that weight bias is common in television, films, news reports, and children's programming, where people with obesity are the targets of ridicule and humor. Characters with obesity in entertainment media are often ascribed negative characteristics (e.g., portrayed as unattractive, lonely, or greedy) and are seen in stereotypical roles (e.g., overeating unhealthy foods and being lazy). Characters affected by obesity are also the targets of direct verbal ridicule or "fat jokes."

Weight bias is also pervasive in news reports about obesity, where individuals with obesity are blamed for making poor choices and being lazy. Recent Rudd Center studies show that photographs paired with news stories about obesity are often stigmatizing and portray persons with obesity in negative, unflattering, and stereotypical ways. These negative images perpetuate damaging weight-based stereotypes and contribute to the pervasive bias and discrimination that persons with overweight and obesity experience in everyday life.

The way that persons with obesity are portrayed by the media profoundly shapes the public's understanding and attitudes about persons of higher weight, and could ultimately interfere with efforts to improve public health and societal attitudes.

However, rather than perpetuating weight stigma, the media can play an important role in reducing societal prejudice towards individuals affected by obesity. The Rudd Center has created resources to be used by media professionals for the purpose of improving their content related to persons with obesity.


HBO/Rudd Center Film Is Effective Reducing Weight Bias

In a new study, researchers found that viewing an HBO film on weight stigma that was produced under the guidance of UConn Rudd Center Deputy Director Rebecca Puhl was effective in reducing weight bias. The brief film, “Stigma: The Human Cost of Obesity,” was a “bonus short” film produced as part of HBO’s 2012 documentary series called “Weight of the Nation.”

The bonus film features Dr. Puhl, who also provided research expertise and guidance to the filmmakers during its making.  In the 2016 study, published in the journal Stigma and Health, researchers conducted a randomized experiment to examine the effects of viewing this film on stigma-related outcomes. The results showed that the film was effective in reducing weight stigma toward people with obesity. “Given the national reach of this film, it is exciting to see research that demonstrates its effectiveness as a stigma-reduction intervention,” Dr. Puhl said.