Plus-size models in advertising may be contributing to growing obesity rates: Study

The increasing use of plus-size models in advertising may be contributing to growing rates of obesity, according to a new study from Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

The study found that as more and more advertising campaigns use “non-traditional models with larger body types” and fewer models who are underweight, it can have a detrimental effect on peoples’ lifestyle and eating behaviour.

The researchers conducted five experiments to see how people would react to cues suggesting “obesity was acceptable.”

In each instance, the study found 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.”

“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,” said study co-author Brent McFerran from SFU.

“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.”

The study found that efforts on the parts of advertisers to increase acceptance are actually resulting in increasing the amount of thought consumers put into their appearance and heightening body anxiety, which is the opposite of what many of these marketing campaigns are trying to achieve.