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 obese people are the targets of ridicule and humor. Obese characters 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). Obese characters are also the targets of direct verbal ridicule or "fat jokes."
Weight bias is also pervasive in news reports about obesity, where obese individuals 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 obese persons in negative, unflattering, and stereotypical ways. These negative images perpetuate damaging weight-based stereotypes and contribute to the pervasive bias and discrimination that overweight and obese persons experience in everyday life.
The way that obese persons are portrayed by the media profoundly shapes the public's understanding and attitudes about obesity and obese persons, 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 obese individuals. The Rudd Center has created resources to be used by media professionals for the purpose of improving their content related to obese persons.