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Obesity attitudes

UK study reports implicit and explicit anti-obesity attitudes

Perceptions of obesity are more negative than previously reported, particularly among males, younger respondents and more frequent exercisers

For the first time, a UK study has reported the prevalence of anti-fat attitudes in the UK adult population. The study, ‘UK adults’ implicit and explicit attitudes towards obesity: a cross-sectional study., published in BMC Obesity, states that perceptions of obesity are more negative than previously reported, particularly among males, younger respondents and more frequent exercisers. However, attitudes differed in relation to weight category, and in general were more positive in obese than non-obese respondents.

The researchers examined anti-fat attitudes in a sample of UK adults (England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) and compared attitudes in relation to gender, age, BMI and exercise frequency. UK adults were expected to report both implicit and explicit anti-fat attitudes and higher levels of anti-fat attitudes were expected in males, younger participants, and more frequent exercisers.

The cross-sectional, 12-month, online study asked 2,380 UK volunteers (613 men, 1,767 women; 18–65 years, mean age = 27.71, SD = 1.03 years) to report their gender, age, height, weight, exercise frequency (hours per week) and perceptions of the words ‘fat’ (Q1: How insulting do you believe the word “fat” is?) and ‘obese’ (Q2: How insulting do you believe the word “obese” is?). To respond to Q1 and Q2 they used a 0-10 response scale, anchored by 0 = not at all and 10 = extremely insulting.

Participants completed online versions of the Attitudes Towards Obese Persons and Beliefs About Obese Persons scales (ATOP, BAOP) that measure both positive and negative attitudes towards obese persons and perceived controllability of obesity, respectively. They also completed the Anti-Fat Attitudes Scale (AFAS) that measures the magnitude of anti-fat attitudes via 5 items (scores range from 0 to 25 where higher scores represent stronger anti-fat attitudes), the 14 item F-Scale (Fat Phobia Scale short form) that measures the degree to which individuals associate stereotypical characteristics with being fat (responses range from 0 to 5 where higher scores represent a perception that characteristics are associated with being fat), and the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which was the only implicit measure used.

Outcomes

The results showed that males have more negative attitudes towards obese people (ATOP), greater anti-fat attitudes (AFAS) and greater fat phobia (F-Scale) than females (t(985.25) = -5.34, p<0.01; t(2378) = 8.92, p<0.01; t(2378) = 3.41, p<0.01, respectively). In contrast, females reported stronger beliefs that obesity is controllable (BAOP: t(2378) = 2.05, p<0.05) and perceived the words fat (Q1: t(1022) = -9.18, p<0.01) and obese (Q2: t(2378) = -5.10, p<0.01) as more insulting.

The researchers found that 18-25 year olds reported more negative attitudes towards obese people (ATOP; p<0.01), greater anti-fat attitudes (AFAS; p<0.01) and greater fat phobia (F-Scale; p<0.01) than 26–50 year olds. Again, 18–25 year olds also reported stronger beliefs that obesity is controllable (BAOP; p<0.01) than 36–50 year olds, and, perceived the words fat (Q1) and obese (Q2) as more insulting than 26–35 year olds (p<0.01), 36–50 year olds (p<0.01) and 51–65 year olds (p<0.01).

Study participants who exercise regularly, (eight or more hours a week) had more negative attitudes towards obese people (ATOP; p<0.01) and greater anti-fat attitudes (AFAS; p<0.01) than those who exercise 0–3 hours a week. They also reported greater anti-fat attitudes (AFAS) than those who exercise 4–7 hours a week (p<0.01), who in turn reported greater anti-fat attitudes (AFAS; p<0.01) and fat phobia (F-Scale; p<0.01) than those who exercise 0-3 hours a week.

Anti-fat attitudes (AFAS) were also greater in underweight and overweight than obese participants (p<0.01) and in normal weight compared with overweight and obese participants (p<0.01). Fat phobia (F-Scale) was lower in obese than underweight, normal weight and overweight participants (p<0.01), and in overweight compared with normal weight participants (p<0.01). Normal weight participants believed that obesity is more controllable (BAOP) than underweight and obese participants (p<0.01), as did overweight compared with obese participants (p<0.01).

“Our findings illustrate that in UK adults, anti-fat attitudes appear to be widespread. Given the stigmatisation that can result from pervasive anti-fat attitudes, interventions to modify anti-fat attitudes are required,” the authors write. “Anti-fat attitudes appear to be robust and have proven difficult to modify; however some promise has been reported in altering beliefs about the causes of obesity…given that anti-fat attitudes can lead to the stigmatisation of obese people; our findings highlight the need for anti-fat attitude intervention with UK adults.”

“This study is also the first to demonstrate that perceptions of obesity are similar to those reported in other countries, predominantly the US. Subsequently, the findings of our research call for anti-fat attitude intervention in the UK,” the researchers conclude. “Education about the uncontrollable causes of obesity can reduce anti-fat attitudes, and given that our study demonstrates strong beliefs that obesity is controllable in UK adults, future research should consider this when designing interventions for certain population groups. Building on present study findings, future research could examine the efficacy of interventions to modify both implicit and explicit anti-fat attitudes and identify explanations for differences in obesity perceptions in subgroups of the population.”

To access this paper, please click here

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