New York: Turning conventional wisdom on its head, researchers have found that portraying overweight individuals negatively in the media may lead them to gaining more weight.
Weight-stigmatising messages presented by the media -- the ones that characterise overweight individuals as lazy, weak-willed, self-indulgent and contributing to rising health care costs -- may be tipping the scales in the wrong direction, said the researchers.
"Our research shows that weight stigma leads to behavioural responses that can ironically contribute to weight-gain," said co-author Jeffrey Hunger from University of California at Santa Barbara.
The findings suggest that weight-loss campaigns and programmes should resist paining a negative picture of overweight and obese individuals negatively. The researchers observed that self-perceived overweight women who read a weight-stigmatising news article consumed more high-calorie snack foods compared to overweight women, who read a neutral article.
"Simply reading about the potential for weight stigma was enough to impair self-regulation among overweight women," Hunger explained.
The research suggests that the mere threat of stigma can have important behavioural effects, even in cases where an individual does not directly experience weight-based mistreatment.
The findings were presented at the recently concluded Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.