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A vicious cycle: Stigmatizing photos fuel obesity problem

A study recently published in the Journal of Health Communication reports that negative images of obese or overweight people in the media are contributing to the obesity problem. After studying five major online news sources, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that almost 75 percent of stories about obesity or weight loss included an image that depicted an overweight person in a negative or stigmatizing light. The researchers claim that these images contribute to the problem of obesity.

In an interview with the LA Times, Rebecca Puhl, director of research and weight stigma initiatives, asserts that prior research has shown that when people view negative or stigmatizing images of overweight people, they are more likely to hold prejudices against overweight or obese people. Furthermore, she says,

“When they’re stigmatized by their weight, they’re more likely to engage in unhealthy eating…stigma is a form of stress and a common coping method is eating food.”

If part of the solution to combating the obesity epidemic is to not allow unhealthy weight to become the social norm, what are some ways we can do that that does not portray overweight or obese people as sloppy or unprofessional? What images would instead empower those to maintain or reach a healthy weight?