Researchers from Arizona State University surveyed people in nine diverse locations around the world and found negative attitudes toward fat bodies in every one. The results suggest a rapid "globalization of fat stigma" in which overweight people are increasingly viewed as ugly, undesirable, lazy, or lacking in self control, the researchers say.
In the U.S., slim bodies have been idealized and fat ones stigmatized for several decades. But that has not been true of the rest of the world, says Alexandra Brewis, a biological anthropologist and one of the study's authors.
"Previously, a wide range of ethnographic studies have shown that many human societies preferred larger, plumper bodies," Dr. Brewis said. "Plump bodies represented success, generosity, fertility, wealth, and beauty."
But those fat-positive values are quickly giving way to a more negative Western way of looking at obesity, such as symbolizing personal failing.
The researchers surveyed people in Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, the U.S., and the U.K. Also included were American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Tanzania—cultures that have traditionally been thought of as fat-positive. People were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about body size. Some statements were fat-negative ("Fat people are lazy"), others were fat-positive ("A big woman is a beautiful woman").
The responses across these diverse cultures were largely congruent with Western attitudes, the researchers found. What's more, the highest fat stigma scores were not in the U.S. or the U.K., "but rather Mexico, Paraguay, and—perhaps most surprisingly—in American Samoa," the researchers write.
The change in attitudes in American Samoa has happened with remarkable speed, says Dr. Brewis. "When I was doing research in the Samoas in the 1990s, we found people starting to take on thinner body ideals, but they didn't yet have discrediting ideas about large bodies," she said. "But that appears to be changing very quickly."
"People from sites that have adopted fat-negative attitudes more recently seem to be more strident," said cultural anthropologist Amber Wutich, another of the study's authors. "The late adopters were more likely to agree with the most judgmental statements like 'fat people are lazy.'"
The study didn't test what is driving this rapid shift in attitude, but the researchers say that "newer forms of educational media, including global public health campaigns" may be playing a role.
Dr. Brewis said the findings reveal another dimension to the global obesity epidemic.
"There are now more overweight than underweight people around the world," she said. "Our results show that this rapid growth in obesity isn't just a concern because it can undermine health. As more people globally gain weight, we also need to be as concerned about the profound emotional suffering that comes with these types of prejudicial ideas about big bodies taking hold."
Alexandra Brewis, Amber Wutich, Ashlan Falletta-Cowden, and Isa Rodriguez-Soto, "Body Norms and Fat Stigma in Global Perspective." Current Anthropology 52:2 (April 2011).
Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by the University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
16.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.05.2017 | Life Sciences
22.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy