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New Report Highlights Weight Stigma in Media and Calls for Change

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A new national survey conducted for the Media Empathy Foundation sheds light on pervasive weight stigma in media, revealing that individuals with higher body weight perceive negative stereotypes, body shaming, weight blaming and exclusion from leading roles in TV and other forms of media. The report, titled Weight Stigma and Media: Assessing the Impact, draws attention to harmful impact and emphasizes the need for more inclusive and respectful representations across all channels.

The study surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. adults with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, a demographic that accounts for 42% of American adults within the range of obesity according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings reveal a concerning pattern of problematic media portrayals with potentially detrimental consequences and underscores the need for consistent, compassionate, and accurate representation of individuals with higher body weight in media.

The findings were discussed by a panel of leaders in media (Deborah Roberts, Al Roker and David Sloan) and academia (Rebecca Puhl, PhD and Holly Lofton, MD) at the Edge in NYC.

Weight stigma in the media exists in both blatant and subtle ways, reinforcing harmful attitudes and societal weight bias of people with higher body weight. There is a clear need for more respectful and compassionate media portrayals of people of diverse body sizes, said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Deputy Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health and Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

Key findings from the report include:

High Prevalence: Most respondents assert that social media (73%), TV shows and movies (65%) and TV news (55%) often or sometimes perpetuate negative stereotypes about individuals with higher body weight. Only a small minority (5% or less) feel that this never happens.

Health News Stereotyping: Respondents say that health news reports tend to blame people for their weight (70%) and suggest that all people with higher body weight are unhealthy (79%).

Terminology Matters: A notable 88% of those surveyed find the term fat to be offensive or inappropriate, more so than morbidly obese, while plus-size and overweight are seen as appropriate by more than half.

Negative Personal Impact: One in three respondents report that media portrayals have made them feel disrespected, with about as many reporting negative effects on their body image and self-esteem. One in four report negative effects on their mental health.

Desired Change: Respondents are calling on creators to focus on character attributes beyond body type and to eliminate weight-based stereotypes, humor, or derogatory portrayals, advocating for more inclusive roles and realistic character development, as well as emphasizing health and wellness without resorting to shaming.

Holly Lofton, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine and Surgery and Director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Health added, Its important that health news media more consistently report on the complex causes of obesity rather than assuming its the result of poor willpower or self-discipline.

The media industry shapes the way we think and has the power to create a more aware and supportive culture for people with higher body weight, said Helene Ellison, Founder and President of the Media Empathy Foundation. Thats our hope in bringing weight stigma to the forefront.

The report was produced for the Media Empathy Foundation by Langer Research Associates and was made possible thanks to the support of Novo Nordisk Inc.

For more information on the Media Empathy Foundation and to access the full survey findings, please visit: For more information on obesity, visit the Obesity Action Coalition at:

For PR Inquiries and more information on the upcoming panel discussion, contact: Kristen Long Communications,

About the Media Empathy Foundation: The Media Empathy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was founded with the mission to reduce health stigma by promoting empathy, compassion, and inclusivity in all forms of media.

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Media Empathy Foundation

Helene Ellison

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Media Empathy Foundation

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