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Rudd Radar

Obesity Stigma Prevalent in Videos Accompanying Online News Coverage

February 20, 2013

Obese adults and youth shown in online video coverage are frequently portrayed in a negative and stigmatizing way, according to a study from the Rudd Center. The study, published in the Journal of Health Communication, is the first to examine portrayals of obese individuals in videos about obesity-related topics covered online.

The researchers found that 65 percent of obese adults and 77 percent of obese youth were portrayed in a negative and stigmatizing way. Compared to thin individuals who were depicted in a flattering manner, obese individuals were more likely to be portrayed in unflattering ways, as headless, with an emphasis on isolated body parts such as a rear view of their excess weight, eating unhealthy foods, engaging in sedentary behavior, and dressed in inappropriately fitting clothing.

A previous Rudd Center content analysis of online images in news stories found that 72 percent of photographs paired with online news stories about obesity are stigmatizing of obese individuals.

“Given the high percentage of Americans relying on the internet for their news, it is likely that the negative depictions of obese persons in online news videos also contribute to weight bias and negative societal attitudes toward obese persons,” said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center. “The news media has tremendous power to shape the opinion of policy makers and the public, and can play an important role in reducing pervasive societal weight stigma by changing the visual content of their news reports about obesity.”

The Rudd Center offers a free media gallery and media guidelines to aid journalists, editors, bloggers, advertisers, and other influencers in the creation and delivery of fair, unbiased coverage of obesity and weight-related topics on television, in print, and online.

The study was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, former Research Associate; Jenny DePierre, BA, former Research Assistant; and Joerg Luedicke, MS, Statistical Consultant.