Original Article

International Journal of Obesity (2014) 38, 663–667; doi:10.1038/ijo.2013.154; published online 10 September 2013

Is he a healthy weight? Exposure to obesity changes perception of the weight status of others

E Robinson1 and T C Kirkham1

1Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

Correspondence: Dr E Robinson, Psychological Sciences, Eleanor Rathbone Building, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZA, UK. E-mail: eric.robinson@liv.ac.uk

Received 20 May 2013; Revised 22 July 2013; Accepted 8 August 2013
Accepted article preview online 16 August 2013; Advance online publication 10 September 2013

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Abstract

Background:

 

The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically in recent years. As exposure to obesity increases, perceptions of what is a ‘normal’ weight are likely to change and this may result in overweight and obese people being perceived as healthier weights than they actually are. We tested whether exposure to obesity results in individuals being more likely to perceive an overweight person as being of healthy weight and whether this would impact upon evaluations of whether an overweight person should consider losing weight.

Methods:

 

Across three experiments with over 350 participants, we examined the effect that exposing participants to photographs of either obese or healthy weight young males had on visual judgements of whether an overweight young male was of healthy weight. We also tested whether exposure influenced participants’ perceptions of what a ‘normal’ weight is, as we predicted that this might mediate the effect that obesity exposure has on weight perceptions.

Results:

 

In all studies, exposure to obesity resulted in an overweight male being perceived to be of healthier weight. There was also evidence that this effect was explained by changes to perceptions of what is a ‘normal’ weight (Experiment 2). Obesity exposure also resulted in participants being more likely to believe that an overweight person did not need to consider losing weight (Experiment 3).

Conclusions:

 

These findings provide causal evidence that perceptions of weight and health status are strongly influenced by the body weight of the people we see around us.

Keywords:

weight misperceptions; body weight; norms

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