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Fighting obesity or obese persons? Public perceptions of obesity-related health messages



This study examined public perceptions of obesity-related public health media campaigns with specific emphasis on the extent to which campaign messages are perceived to be motivating or stigmatizing.


In summer 2011, data were collected online from a nationally representative sample of 1014 adults. Participants viewed a random selection of 10 (from a total of 30) messages from major obesity public health campaigns from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and rated each campaign message according to positive and negative descriptors, including whether it was stigmatizing or motivating. Participants also reported their familiarity with each message and their intentions to comply with the message content.


Participants responded most favorably to messages involving themes of increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and general messages involving multiple health behaviors. Messages that have been publicly criticized for their stigmatizing content received the most negative ratings and the lowest intentions to comply with message content. Furthermore, messages that were perceived to be most positive and motivating made no mention of the word ‘obesity’ at all, and instead focused on making healthy behavioral changes without reference to body weight.


These findings have important implications for framing messages in public health campaigns to address obesity, and suggest that certain types of messages may lead to increased motivation for behavior change among the public, whereas others may be perceived as stigmatizing and instill less motivation to improve health.

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Research and project support were provided by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

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Correspondence to R Puhl.

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Puhl, R., Peterson, J. & Luedicke, J. Fighting obesity or obese persons? Public perceptions of obesity-related health messages. Int J Obes 37, 774–782 (2013).

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  • campaign
  • public health
  • stigma
  • weight
  • bias

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