Objective: Society has a very negative view of overweight, leading to prejudice and discrimination. In an examination of the scope of these views, 9-year old children's attributions of the social functioning and health of thin and overweight body shapes were investigated.
Method: One hundred and eighty eight girls and boys completed a series of ratings of four silhouette figures depicting a thin and heavy boy and girl. The children's own body shape preference, dietary restraint, height and weight were also measured.
Results: The ratings of the four silhouette variations were dominated by the size of the figure being judged. The overweight body shape was associated with poor social functioning, impaired academic success, and low perceived health, healthy eating and fitness. Gender and the raters own body weight had only limited impact on these stereotypical judgements. Children's judgements of themselves on the same attributes showed a greater perceived relevance of weight for girls and a confusion of healthy eating with dieting.
Conclusion: Pre-adolescent children's perception of thinness and overweight echo the prejudices against overweight voiced by society. Health promotion at all ages will require a more considered presentation of the health implications of overweight.