Getting worse: the stigmatization of obese children

Obes Res. 2003 Mar;11(3):452-6. doi: 10.1038/oby.2003.61.


Objective: The prevalence of childhood obesity more than doubled in the period from 1961 to 2001. We replicated a 1961 study of stigma in childhood obesity to see what effect this increased prevalence has had on this stigma.

Research methods and procedures: Participants included 458 5th- and 6th-grade children attending upper-middle and lower-middle income U.S. public schools. Children ranked six drawings of same-sex children with obesity, various disabilities, or no disability ("healthy"), in order of how well they liked each child.

Results: Children in both the present and the 1961 study liked the drawing of the obese child least. The obese child was liked significantly less in the present study than in 1961 [Kruskal-Wallis H(1) = 130.53, p < 0.001]. Girls liked the obese child less than boys did [H(1) = 5.23, p < 0.02]. Children ranked the healthy child highest and significantly higher than in 1961 [H(1) = 245.40, p < 0.001]. The difference in liking between the healthy and obese child was currently 40.8% greater than in 1961.

Discussion: Stigmatization of obesity by children appears to have increased over the last 40 years.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Disabled Children
  • Face / abnormalities
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Prejudice
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stereotyping*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires