Are Plus Sized Models In Ads Leading To A Rise In Obesity Rates?

In a new study from Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, the increase in the use of plus-sized models in print and television advertising could be contributing to the growing rates of obesity in women.

The Study

Results of the study were published in the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Policy & Marketing. It was found that market advertisers are using less models that are underweight and aesthetically flawless. Instead of using the common reed thin models of the past, more companies are using non-traditional models with a larger body size. However, the tactic may have a negative effect on the public’s lifestyle and eating habits.

The paper entitled “The (ironic) Dove Effect: Usage of Acceptance Cues for Larger Body Types Increases Unhealthy Behaviors” was co-authored by Dr. Brent McFerran and Dr. Lily Lin.

Researchers performed five different experiments to check on how subjects would react to cues that suggested obesity was perfectly normal and acceptable.

In each study, the subjects displayed a greater intended or actual consumption of unhealthy foods and a reduced motivation to engage in a healthier lifestyle. These behaviors were influenced by an increased belief that obesity is more socially acceptable.

The authors of the studies ponder that efforts to increase the acceptance of obesity are resulting in increasing the amount of thought consumers put into their appearance and heightening body anxiety. Ironically, these facts are the opposite of what many marketing advertisers are struggling to achieve.

The findings have strong implications for both public policy makers and advertising companies. Researchers warn both entities to be mindful of how people’s bodies are portrayed in the media, and to develop new strategies that don’t place the focus on any particular body shape or size as being “good” or “bad.”

What is Fat Shaming?

There has been a lot of talk about “fat shaming,” but do you really know what it is or what the term means?

Fat shaming is making someone who is overweight or obese feel ashamed about their weight or eating habits, to the point that people actually believe it can help the individual lose weight.

However, fat shaming does not motivate anyone to lose weight. All fat shaming does is make someone feel terrible about themselves and it results in motivating that person to eat more out of anxiety and pain, which results in further weight gain.

Conclusion to the Study

Dr. Brent McFerran states, “Although this study demonstrates that accepting larger bodies’ is associated with negative consequences, research also shows that ‘fat-shaming’-or stigmatizing such bodies-fails to improve motivation to lose weight.”

He goes on to conclude, “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 body weight, and more importantly, refraining from drawing attention to the body size issue entirely.”

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