Children as young as four view overweight people in a negative light
Children as young as four view overweight people in a negative light and notice when characters get fatter in books
- Children labelled the characters ‘lazy’ and ‘greedy’ when they gained weight
- Reported losing weight as a positive thing people do to look good
- Some even said people might be socially excluded or bullied if they gain weight
Children as young as four look down on overweight people, research suggests.
A study involved four to nine-year-olds being read stories where the main character’s weight fluctuated.
The children not only noticed when the protagonist gained weight but even labelled them as ‘lazy’ or ‘greedy’.
When asked why people lose weight, many of the youngsters said shedding the pounds is a positive thing we do to look good.
Children notice when characters in books gain weight, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by Newcastle University and the University of Leeds. It was led by Dr Elizabeth Evans, a lecturer in psychology at Newcastle.
‘Participants were knowledgeable about weight change, including causes, consequences and motivations,’ the researchers wrote.
‘Children varied developmentally in their expressed understanding. Younger children were less able to articulate reasons for their negative opinion of weight gain.
‘Older children provided numerous examples of weight bias against larger [people], and older girls particularly emphasised a loss of social capital.
‘Children overwhelmingly associated a smaller body size with fitness, health and sports ability. Some children, however, advocated an accepting attitude towards larger body sizes.’
The researchers read 92 children a story in which the main character was either a healthy weight or on the larger side.
The children were shown different pictures of the protagonist, which portrayed them as having either lost or gained weight.
If the youngsters noticed this change to the character’s size, they were encouraged to discuss how they felt about it with the researchers.
Results revealed all the children aged six or over noticed the weight change, as did 75 per cent of the four-to-five year olds. The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.
The children mainly linked the weight changes to food rather than exercise.
Some of the boys aged under six viewed weight gain as the person ‘growing big and strong’, but most of the younger children reported it as being a negative.
They also saw weight loss as a positive thing, but could not explain why. Some reported people may choose to shed the pounds to look good, get fit or do well at sports.
Meanwhile, the children over six said people who put on weight may be ‘lazy’ or ‘greedy’.
And the girls in this age group said people may be excluded if they gain weight, or suffer bullying or loneliness.
However, several children added the character’s friend would accept them regardless of their size. ‘Even if she did change, they would always be her friend,’ one said.
WHAT IS OBESITY? AND WHAT ARE ITS HEALTH RISKS?
Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.
Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.
Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.
As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.
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