Obese children, adults and senior citizens in the eyes of the general public: results of a representative study on stigma and causation of obesity

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e46924. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046924. Epub 2012 Oct 12.

Abstract

Obese individuals are blamed for their excess weight based on causal attribution to the individual. It is unclear whether obese individuals of different age groups and gender are faced with the same amount of stigmatization. This information is important in order to identify groups of individuals at risk for higher stigmatization and discrimination. A telephone interview was conducted in a representative sample of 3,003 participants. Experimental manipulation was realized by vignettes describing obese and normal-weight children, adults and senior citizens. Stigmatizing attitudes were measured by semantic differential. Causal attribution was assessed. Internal factors were rated with highest agreement rates as a cause for the vignette's obesity. Lack of activity behavior and eating too much are the most supported causes. Importance of causes differed for the different vignettes. For the child, external causes were considered more important. The overweight vignette was rated consistently more negatively. Higher educational attainment and personal obesity were associated with lower stigmatizing attitudes. The vignette of the obese child was rated more negatively compared to that of an adult or senior citizen. Obesity is seen as a controllable condition, but for children external factors are seen as well. Despite this finding, they are faced with higher stigmatizing attitudes in the general public, contradicting attribution theory assumptions. Internal and external attribution were found to be inter-correlated. Obese children are the population most at risk for being confronted with stigmatization, making them a target point in stigma-reduction campaigns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Image / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Educational Status
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Germany, FKZ: 01EO1001. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.