Prejudice Against Fat People Has Gone Global

The misguided idea that plumpness equals poor health and unattractiveness may have gone viral worldwide. There used to be many cultures that saw a rotund shape as a sign of health and wealth, and as late as the 1990s, cultural studies showed that often bigger was seen as better, even in Western nations; but it seems those ideas are fading.

In a study published in April 2011, researchers set out to determine factors that influence whether or not people view plumper body size positively or negatively. The researchers surveyed 680 adults in American Samoa, Pago Pago, Tanzania, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, London, Buenos Aires and Arizona. Respondent’s answers to certain questions provided their “average fat stigma score.”

A key drawback to the study was the fact that its participants represented only a tiny fraction of the world’s population. A larger and more diverse study group’s results would hold more meaning. Even so, the researchers concluded that their study reflects a global trend toward believing fatness is a negative trait and this trend will lead to a worldwide increase in discrimination against fat people.

However, Linda Bacon, Ph.D.’s Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight and Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health are among a growing number of books reporting on several international studies that indicate you can achieve and maintain wellness at any size. What matters, say proponents of Bacon’s Health at Every Size movement, is that you eat nutritiously, exercise regularly and avoid unhealthy habits like smoking and substance abuse. A study coauthored by Bacon and published in 2011 supports this claim.

Bacon’s and many other underpublicized studies indicate that while not everyone who adopts a healthy lifestyle will be thin, most people who do so will be fit regardless of their body sizes. For a brief explanation and rundown of such studies, check out “Supplement: Response to ‘‘Can Fat Be Fit'” in the December 16, 2007 Scientific American.

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