Tutor HuntResources Psychology Resources

Anti-fat Prejudice Towards Peers

Anti-fat prejudice towards peers

Date : 13/01/2022

Author Information


Uploaded by : Ceyhan
Uploaded on : 13/01/2022
Subject : Psychology



Anti-fat prejudice towards obese and overweight children by peers has been one of the most important social problems in the recent years. Anti-fat attitudes, weight bias and problems of stereotypes of the groups by drawing on social psychological theory are explained in this report. In addition, an intervention that may reduce prejudice is also discussed by explaining the assessment methods, its strengths and limitations. There are different theoretical analysis and explanations that are collected from various journals and articles regarding the same topic.


The issues with anti-fat prejudice towards peers have recently become a social psychological problem. Obese and overweight children experience weight stigmatization from educators or peers at schools. There are social consequences of obesity these social effects frequently take the form of weight bias and stigma. The following discussion is provided with a theoretical explanation of weight prejudice towards peers and a theoretically grounded intervention that may reduce weight bias at schools. Some Cooperative learning methods that can be used for reduction of prejudice are also explained the methods used for assessment of the intervention method, its advantages and possible weaknesses are also mentioned in this discussion.

Anti-fat Prejudice, Weight Bias and Stigma

More than fifty years negative attitudes towards obese individuals are reported in researches,

and this problem became more important in last ten years, and researchers started to focus on

obesity field. Weight stigmatization is still accepted by society and obese people are

vulnerable to weight prejudice in educational institutes, relationships with their peers and

parents and later at workplace and health care settings. In addition, there is an increasing

negative affect of bullying and victimization towards obese children who are reciepents of

weight prejudice. (Puhl RM Brownell, 2001)

Although the rates of obesity is increasing, weight prejudice, also mentioned as weight bias,

is still a growing problem towards obese children and adults in recent years. There

is rapid increase in rates of childhood obesity and there`s a significant reason to be worried

about the vulnerability of many children to the negative outcomes of weight bias and stigma.

(Puhl, Rebecca Kelly M, 2013)

Weight bias can be defined as negative attitudes on a person s weight. The social sign that a

person carries due to prejudice and weight bias is called Stigma. There is a high risk for

obese children because of their weight. Weight bias also have impacts on educational

success. (Washington Reginald L, 2011) Weight bias include negative behaviours,

convictions and discrimination toward obese people. As a result of these negative belief and

behaviours obese people may be treated differently than the individuals with normal and

acceptable weight. weight bias are often related with negative beliefs and feelings. (Crandall, 1994)

Peers often criticise obese children, and school is a common place that weight bias are

observed. Researches reveals that weight prejudice towards peers starts among at 3-5 years

old preschool children. The children at preschools states that their obese peers are shabby,

unwanted play friends when compared to the children with normal weight. They also have a

belief that obese peers do not have many friends, they are lazy, ugly and not clever. When

they start elementary school their anti-fat beliefs get worse they think their overweight peers

are lonely, selfish and stupid. (Puhl. 2005)

Obese children experience bullying, racial discrimination, unfair treatment, isolation, and persistent stigmatisation, and suffer more social ridicule, victimisation, and harassment than other children with socially accepted characteristics. Children have negative attitudes against obese children, and even children who are obese themselves hold these negative feelings.

Most obese individuals report being handled with less respect or courtesy than thinner people,and being called by their weight names or slurs. Therefore, stigma of weight can occur in subtle forms, or it can be articulated explicitly. (Puhl Rebecca, 2001)

In educational settings, overweight and obese students experience stigmatisation from peers

and educators. Educators have been continually revealing negative weight-based stereotypes

about obese students. Research shows teachers have negative views about the abilities of

overweight teenagers, seeing them as having inferior skills in mental, thinking, physical, and

cooperation. (Price JH, Desmond SM, Stelzer CM, 1987)

Considering psychological effects, reports show that experiencing weight stigma may lead to low self-esteem, increased level of depression, eating disorders and binge eating (Puhl and Brownell, 2001)

Theoretical Explanation

The most common theory used to explain weight bias is Attribution theory. Generally, people

attribute one s weight to the person s character as they think that weight problems are their

own responsibility. (Puhl and Brownell, 2003). It is also possible for children to see the

condition as a fault of the obese children and characterise more negatively, they see his

condition as the mistake of the obese peer. (Heider, 1944, 1958)

Moreover, it is proved that Attribution theory is linked to children at school age. The 8-12

year old children have beliefs about obesity they believe that weight can be controlled. There

is a positive correlation between the strength of their belief and negative stereotypes about

obese individuals. However, there are not enough attribution-theory studies with young

children. (Tiggemann and Anesbury, 2000)

Another theory that gives further insight into the causes of anti-fat bias is socio-cultural

theory. This theory explores the powerful effect of society and culture on the attitudes and

beliefs of people. Socio-cultural theory suggests social expectations and cultural norms that

emphasise the importance of beauty and body shape (Polivy and Herman, 2004 Neighbors et

al.,2008) In accordance with this theory, anti-fat bias may occur because obese and

overweight people do not fit the social norms which accept thinness and reject fatness.

(Crandall and Schiffheuer, 1998)

Social identity theory is also linked with weight prejudice. This theory assumes that anti-fat prejudice can occur if individuals categorise themselves as members of specific social groups and they create their social identity by contrasting their groups with other groups (Puhl and Brownell, 2003)

Another work on Social identity Theory mentions that weight prejudice is connected with feelings about person s own body image. Comparing one s own appearance to someone who is perceived as unattractive and less desirable is a method to feel better. In this respect anti-fat bias may be more rewarding for the protoganist. (Tajfel H, Turner JC, 1986)

Problems of stereotypes of the groups

Obese children are often victims of verbal teasing and bullying by peers it may start out simply as name calling but bullying occurs when name calling continues and extends into verbal abuse. They often have to deal with bullying at school, outside of school, online, and in various forms like name calling, verbal abuse and even physical bullying. (Name Calling vs. Bullying, 2015, July 21)

According to a report nearly 33% of obese females and 25% of obese males are teased by peers at school. Peers view overweight children as unwanted, passive, dull and selfish. (Puhl RM, Latner JD, 2007) As a result of these attitudes, obese school children are more likely to miss days of school when compared to their nonobese mates. Moreover, the children who are the victims of weight bias and prejudice are vulnerable to low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. Anti-fat attitudes may start in early years and get worse in following years. (Needham BL, Crosnoe R, Muller C, 2004) Even teachers see obese students as lazy, oversensitive and more vulnerable to more likely to be unsuccessful at work and more likely to have parental problems when compared to their non-obese peers.

Weight based bullying makes the young person more likely to have unhealthy eating

habits and decrease the rate of physical activities at school. (Puhl Rm, 2007) Approximately

1 in 2 principals report that many people have a problem when they associate

with obese individuals. Furthermore, compared with students with average weight, teacher

have low expectations on various skills. (O Brien KS, Hunter JA, Banks M, 2007)

Despite their comparable academic success, obese students are hardly accepted by colleges.

(Canning H, Mayer J., 1966) These results may be an explanation why obese student

experience bias at educational settings.

Intervention to reduce prejudice towards peers

Intergroup approach is a prejudice reduction method which is based on a view that group

members attitudes and perceptions help their own groups related to others. (Allport, 1954)

Intergroup interaction approaches that are used for prejudice reduction alludes to

methods in which people in a group act together with people in another group about

whom they may have negative beliefs. For instance, provided that individuals in group

A have weight bias towards individuals in group B, and a person from group A needs to

act together with a person from group B. Researchers expect a prejudice reduction after

this kind of interaction. (Palluck, Green, 2009)

Intergroup approaches frequently used in laboratory settings and outside the

laboratory especially at schools. Most of these approaches based on theoretical views

namely interdependence, intergroup contact and social identity.

Interdependence theories are built on Mark Deutsch s theory of independence. According to

this theory, if two groups realise that they have a similar problem that can only be solved by

cooperating, they are more likely to involve in cooperative activities. (Deutsch, M. ,1949)

One of the efficient interdependence approach used to reduce prejudice at schools is

Cooperative Learning and it is often examined at schools. This approach is often linked to

jigsaw method . Jigsaw method was found by a social psychologist Elliot Aronson. The

name jig-saw comes from each member of the group creates a piece of a puzzle in order to

make a jigsaw. Students are divided into 5-6 people groups and complete a work. Every team

member is given a different role to complete the task, all the people in the group must work

cooperatively by sharing their work with the other members of the group. This method is

used to reduce prejudice towards the recipients of prejudice. When the members of

non-stigmatized of the group works together with the members of stigmatized group, the

results show an increase at aiding behaviours, emphaty and liking. (Aronson, Branley,

Stephen, 1978)

The idea of jigsaw method was to build an interdependent environment in order to make

every student in a classroom a significant part of a task so success is gained only by

cooperation. Children learn how to like and respect each other with this method (Aronson,

Ptnoe, 2011). Some American studies reported that prejudice and stereotypes are reduced in

jigsaw classrooms when compared to other classroom settings. ( (Aron- son, Blaney, Stephin,

Sikes, Snapp, 1978) Moreover, an evidence from an Australian study shows that nearly

100 year 4-6 children in two different schools were subject to an experiment, and the results

showed that positive peer relationships and academic success are improved, prejudice

educed by jigsaw method. (Walker, Crogan, 1998)

Competitive cooperation method is another method related with cooperative learning. With

this method students are divided into different groups of 4-5 people and compete with each

other in learning games which are organised weekly. In order to do well and win, members of

the groups should cooperate. (Sharan, 1980)

According to experimental and non-experimental results, cooperative techniques are effective

on building positive peer relationships and liking. (Johnson and Johnson, 1989)

Intergroup contact approaches which are based on Gordon Allport s contact hypothesis

are also an efficient way to reduce prejudice at schools. According to this perspective,

prejudice is reduced under similar conditions of cooperation among the people who

have negative attitudes and prejudiced beliefs and people who are victims of the

prejudice. Optimal condition means equal status among groups within the structure of

similar targets, and cooperation in contrast to competition. (Allport, 1954)

Assessment of success

Survey Methods

Anti-fat behaviours and weight bias can be assessed using different kinds of methods like

survey methods, questionnaires, experiments in laboratories and field studies outside the

laboratories. Sometimes more than one method is used to indicate a reduction in prejudice or

prejudicial behaviour. Survey method and questionnaires frequently used at schools to assess

weight bias.(Rugs, King, Hebl, 2010)

Survey methods are self -report ways of data collection and they are efficient on indicating

stereotypes like making generalisations about the character of a person because of being a

member of a group. Therefore, for example survey methods proved that people see obese

individuals as ugly, unwanted, stupid, lazy and sloppy people.( Cramer , Steinwert , 1998)

The fat Stereotypes Questionnaire involving 18 items related with thin and fat people is an

example to measure that is used both in adults and children to indicate negative stereotypes

toward overweight and obese people. (Davison, birch, 2004)

Survey methods are efficient on both elucidating the stereotypes and the prejudices that

people have toward obese individuals.

One of the most helpful scale that can help to assess prejudiced behaviours toward obese

people is Anti-fat Attitudes scale this scale involves 13 items and aim to measure people s

beliefs and fears about obesity. Crandall s Anti-fat scale is the most known survey

method. There are also other techniques to examine anti-fat behaviours such as Anti-fat

Attitudes test which is a 47-item scale and targets to measure various behaviours toward

obese people with different subscales. (Rugs, King, Hebel, 2010)


Online or paper and pencil questionnaires which has experimental techniques are commonly

used to assess weight prejudice. There are different forms of experimental manipulation

photos or pictures, keywords and stickers. (Hebl, 2001)

The advantage of the questionnaire is its being simple for the researchers. It is easy to collect

data, moreover, the researchers can find various inferences about the results with the help of

experimental manipulations.

Qualitative research methods are also very effective on collecting data of stereotyping.

Moreover, a more subjective evaluation can be made when compared to quantitative methods

by learning the answers in reciepent s own words and can be used for older children. (Puhl,

Brownell, 2007) Open ended questions such as i. Can you tell your worst experience of

weight prejudice? ii. Would you like other people to know how being fat is? iii. What is the

most frequent stereotype obese people face? iv. What should be done to improve negative

attitudes towards overweight individuals?

Strengths and Limitations

Generally, strategies intergroup approaches have been very successful in reducing

prejudice. However, there is not enough proof of impact on adults as it is often studied

with children at schools. Moreover, researches are not enough to prove success in

reduction of prejudice is as a result of cooperative learning changes their beliefs about

stigmatized group as a whole or only for the members who are part of their assigned

cooperative learning group. (Warring, Johnson Johnson ,1985)

Although there is proof that cooperative learning methods supports and encourage academic

success and interpersonal relations and social acceptance, it has not been monitored as a

stand-alone intervention method which targets to reduce bullying and victimisation. (Block,


There are disadvantages of methods used that based on interdependence and intergroupcontact theories in a classroom setting students may not work well with others and this maycause a conflict, all lessons may not be suitable for group work, there may be problems withclassroom management due to noise.

This resource was uploaded by: Ceyhan