Toddlers and anti-fat attitudes – In the News

Children might be picking up anti-fat attitudes from their mothers very early on in life, according to new New Zealand research.

Credit. Flickr / Mindaugas Danys
Credit. Flickr / Mindaugas Danys

Researchers from the University of Otago, working with Australian and US colleagues, conducted a study exploring the links between mothers’ attitudes regarding weight and infants and toddlers’ behaviour in viewing images of obese and normal weight-range people. The research is published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

“What we found is that younger infants, around 11 months of age, preferred to look at obese figures, whereas the older toddler group, around 32 months old, preferred to look at average-sized figures,” said Professor Ted Ruffman, from Otago’s Department of Psychology.

“Furthermore we found that preference was strongly related to maternal anti-fat  prejudice. It was a high correlation-the more the mother had expressed anti-fat attitudes in the questionnaire, the more the older toddlers would look away from the  obese figure towards the normal weight one.”

Professor Ruffman says that “some argue this anti-fat prejudice is innate but our results  indicate it is socially learned, which is consistent with findings about other forms of prejudice. What is surprising, is that children are picking up on these things so early”.

Anti-fat prejudice is associated with social isolation, depression, psychiatric symptoms, low self-esteem and poor body image, warned Prof Ruffman.

The research has been widely covered in New Zealand. Examples include:

Yahoo NZ News: Anti-fat attitudes shaped early in life – Otago research
Otago Daily Times: Anti-fat prejudice by toddlers
New Zealand Herald: Kids picking up anti-fat vibes at two Mums could be behind fat-phobic views, University of Otago research suggests

Overseas coverage includes: Anti-fat attitudes are learned, can be picked up early
Daily Mail: Mothers who are ‘anti-fat’ are more likely to pass their attitudes onto children
Shape Magazine: The Science of Fat Shaming