Thin may be the American ideal, but that view appears to have gone global, a new study finds.
Negative attitudes toward fat people have taken root in several other cultures around the world, even in countries where chubbiness was once considered attractive, anthropologists at Arizona State University report.
Why that’s so isn’t entirely clear, but some experts suggest it might be the unintended byproduct of global efforts to curb obesity. Health campaigns about the risks of being overweight may be seen as criticizing and casting blame on individuals — you eat too much and don’t exercise enough! — rather than on environmental and social factors, leading people to adopt the same perspective. (More on Time.com:
For their study, published in the journal Current Anthropology, the ASU researchers asked people to answer true or false to a variety of statements, each with a varying degree of fat stigma: “Fat people are lazy” or “Some people are fated to be obese” or “A big woman is a beautiful woman.”
They got responses from 700 people in 10 countries or regions, including American Samoa, Argentina, Iceland, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Tanzania, two sites in Arizona and London.
Fat stigma existed everywhere, but was highest in Paraguay, researchers found, followed by American Samoa, a place where big used to be considered beautiful. Negative attitudes were also found in Puerto Rico, another culture that once celebrated rotundity. Surprisingly, the U.S. rated among the lowest for fat stigma. (More on Time.com: Explaining the Gender Gap: Obesity Costs Women a Lot More Than Men)
“We believe that in sites where people have held fat-stigmatizing views for a longer time, people may have developed social norms about the importance of masking beliefs that are viewed as impolite,” explained co-author and cultural anthropologist Amber Wutich in a statement.
“People from sites that have adopted fat-negative attitudes more recently seem to be more strident. The late adopters were more likely to agree with the most judgmental statements like ‘Fat people are lazy,’” she noted.
Although the current survey didn’t address the possible social fallout of fat stigma, the potential for harm is great, the authors say. Negative attitudes can lead to emotional suffering on the part of the large-bodied as well as social and workplace discrimination. against the large-bodied along with emotional suffering on the part of overweight people.