A new study from SFU’s Beedie School of Business suggests using plus-sized models in advertising might have a detrimental effect on people’s health, particularly when it comes to obesity.
The study says using plus-sized models as a way to encourage body positivity might actually promote consumption of unhealthy foods and discourage people from exercising on the premise that obesity is socially acceptable.
The researchers conducted five experiments to see how subjects would react to cues suggesting that obesity was acceptable.
In each instance the subjects displayed a greater intended or actual consumption of unhealthy food and a reduced motivation to engage in a healthier lifestyle, driven by an increased belief that obesity was more socially acceptable.
The study’s authors posit that efforts to increase acceptance are resulting in increasing the amount of thought consumers put into their appearance and heightening body anxiety – ironically the opposite of what many of these marketing campaigns are trying to achieve.
The findings have implications for both public policy makers and advertisers. The researchers advise both to be mindful of how individuals’ bodies are portrayed in the media, and develop new strategies that don’t focus on suggesting any shape is “good” or “bad”.
“Although this study demonstrates that accepting larger bodies results is associated with negative consequences, research also shows that ‘fat-shaming’ -or stigmatizing such bodies – fails to improve motivation to lose weight,” says study co-author Brent McFerran.
“Since neither accepting nor stigmatizing larger bodies achieves the desired results, it would be beneficial for marketers and policy makers to instead find a middle ground – using images of people with a healthy weight, and more importantly, refraining from drawing attention to the body size issue entirely.”
[Photo Tess Munster/Facebook]