Do Media Portrayals and Social Consensus Information Impact Anti-Fat Attitudes and Support for Anti-Weight Discrimination Laws and Policies?

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Although weight stigma and discrimination are associated with increased body dissatisfaction and eating disorder risk, reduced opportunities, and poorer well-being, there are few legal protections for such discrimination in the U.S. We addressed one barrier to enacting protective legislation – public attitudes toward anti-weight discrimination laws – by assessing the impact of media representations of fatness and information about peer attitudes. Using a 2 × 2 experimental design, participants (N = 525) completed baseline assessments of political conservatism and weight bias and were randomly assigned to view fat-negative or fat-positive media content that was ostensibly supported or not supported by their peers, followed by questionnaires assessing fat phobia and legislative attitudes. Two-way ANCOVAs controlling for baseline weight bias and political conservatism indicated a significant effect for media framing, with greater fat phobia and less support for anti-discrimination laws and policies among those who viewed the fat-negative frame; however, effects for ostensible peer support and interaction effects were not significant. These preliminary findings suggest that efforts to shift media rhetoric may enhance support for anti-weight discrimination laws. Future research should investigate other barriers to anti-discrimination legislation and estimate their impact on body dissatisfaction, eating disorder risk, and other indicators of population health.


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