Fighting obesity or obese persons? Public perceptions of obesity-related health messages

Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
International journal of obesity (2005) (Impact Factor: 5.22). 09/2012; 37(6). DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2012.156
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT OBJECTIVE:This study examined public perceptions of obesity-related public health media campaigns with specific emphasis on the extent to which campaign messages are perceived to be motivating or stigmatizing.METHOD:In summer 2011, data were collected online from a nationally representative sample of 1014 adults. Participants viewed a random selection of 10 (from a total of 30) messages from major obesity public health campaigns from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and rated each campaign message according to positive and negative descriptors, including whether it was stigmatizing or motivating. Participants also reported their familiarity with each message and their intentions to comply with the message content.RESULTS:Participants responded most favorably to messages involving themes of increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and general messages involving multiple health behaviors. Messages that have been publicly criticized for their stigmatizing content received the most negative ratings and the lowest intentions to comply with message content. Furthermore, messages that were perceived to be most positive and motivating made no mention of the word 'obesity' at all, and instead focused on making healthy behavioral changes without reference to body weight.CONCLUSION:These findings have important implications for framing messages in public health campaigns to address obesity, and suggest that certain types of messages may lead to increased motivation for behavior change among the public, whereas others may be perceived as stigmatizing and instill less motivation to improve health.International Journal of Obesity advance online publication, 11 September 2012; doi:10.1038/ijo.2012.156.

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    ABSTRACT: The strength of implicit anti-fat attitudes may be related to visual portrayals of obesity and individuals' pre-existing explicit attitudes toward appearance and weight. Participants (N=117) completed measures of explicit weight bias, beliefs about weight controllability, orientation toward personal appearance, overweight preoccupation, and two Implicit Association Tests (IAT). One IAT measured implicit anti-fat attitudes when individuals with obesity were shown engaging in behaviors congruent with common stereotypes (e.g., eating snacks, watching television), while a second IAT measured attitudes in response to stereotypically incongruent images (e.g., preparing vegetables, exercising). Whereas implicit weight bias was evident for both IATs, the stereotype congruent IAT was significantly related to higher implicit weight bias, appearance orientation, and overweight preoccupation, and was marginally related to explicit anti-fat attitudes. The stereotypical portrayal of individuals with obesity was related to implicit anti-fat attitudes, which may have implications for the development, maintenance, and expression of stigmatizing anti-fat attitudes. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Body Image 10/2014; 12C:32-35. DOI:10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.09.002 · 1.90 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Increases in the body weight of people in Australia and other countries around the world have been the subject of intense scientific, political and media attention in recent years. The placement of body weight at the focal point of discourse about health is referred to as the ‘weight-centred health paradigm’. This paradigm has become dominant in public health policy in the developed English speaking world but has been subjected to intense critique on philosophical, ethical and empirical grounds. Many of the strategies used in weight-related public health initiatives are enacted through the discipline of health promotion. Health promotion is the process of working collaboratively with people to enhance the health of individuals, groups, communities and populations using a broad range of strategies. Health promotion is the spearhead of the new public health, and is explicitly based on a set of values and principles. Health promotion practice that is underpinned by the values and principles of best practice health promotion has been termed modern health promotion. Health promotion underpinned by values and principles not consistent with best practice has been termed traditional health promotion. Despite the major role of health promotion in implementing weight-related public health initiatives, these initiatives have received little critique in relation to the extent to which such initiatives reflect the values and principles of modern or best practice health promotion. This research project addressed that gap. The research questions for the project were: what are the discourses within weight-related public health initiatives in Australia; and to what extent do weight-related public health initiatives in Australia reflect the values and principles of health promotion? The research epistemology was constructivist, the theoretical perspective was critical theory, and the theoretical framework was Critical Systems Heuristics. Critical discourse analysis was used to examine ten weight-related public health initiatives commissioned or produced by the Australian Government or parliament between 2003 and 2013. The health promotion values and principles continuum provided heuristic support for critical reflection. From analysis of the claims, values, assumptions, power relationships and ideologies that were explicit, implicit, suppressed or hidden within the initiatives, I identified a broad range of discourses. The hegemonic but lexically questionable discourse of preventative health resulted in the almost complete invisibilisation of the discipline of health promotion. It also provided the foundation for alarmist, biomedical, reductionist discourses about body weight and health, with minimal attention to the social determinants of health, social justice and equity. Individuals were assumed to be naturally ignorant about the behavioural determinants of body weight but nonetheless to have ultimate responsibility for choosing these behaviours and thereby improving their health. Weight-related public health strategies adopted a mixed approach focusing on the whole population as well as the militarist targeting of negative, deficit-based interventions towards specific groups within the community. Discourse related to potential harm was minimal despite the significant potential for harm inherent in the public health initiatives. Discourse regarding evaluation of the initiatives focused on changes in behaviours and disease rates. The documents relied on the power, authority and status of experts to present uncontested discourses around body weight and public health responses to it. On the basis of these discourses, I determined that the weight-related public health initiatives were reflective of two modern and seven traditional health promotion values and principles related to why the weight-related public health initiatives were needed, and two modern and 11 traditional health promotion values and principles related to what weight-related public health strategies were proposed and implemented in the weight-related public health initiatives. Overall, the weight-related public health initiatives were not consistent with the values and principles of health promotion best practice. This project will contribute to the greater body of systemic change being implemented by social justice, fat acceptance and Health at Every Size advocates and activists, fat studies and critical weight studies scholars and others who are engaged in the enterprising task of shifting society from the weight-centred to a weight-neutral health paradigm, and thereby improving the health and wellbeing of people of all sizes.
    08/2014, Degree: PhD, Supervisor: Margaret Barnes

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