A content analysis of weight stigmatization in popular television programming for adolescents

Authors

  • Marla E. Eisenberg ScD, MPH,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    2. Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    • Correspondence to: Marla E. Eisenberg, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, 717 Delaware St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414. E-mail: eisen012@umn.edu

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  • Ashley Carlson-McGuire MPH,

    1. Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Sarah E. Gollust PhD,

    1. Division of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Dianne Neumark-Sztainer PhD, MPH, RD

    1. Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Supported by R01HL084064 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (PI: D. Neumark-Sztainer). Ms. Carlson-McGuire's time was also supported by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Ruth E. Stief Scholarship Fund.

ABSTRACT

Objective

This study provides updated information regarding the prevalence and characteristics of weight stigma in popular adolescent television programming, using a sample of favorite shows named by diverse adolescents.

Method

Participants in a large, population-based study of Minnesota adolescents (N = 2,793, mean age = 14.4) listed their top three favorite television shows. A coding instrument was developed to analyze randomly selected episodes from the most popular 10 programs. Weight-stigmatizing incidents were compared across television show characteristics and characters' gender and weight status.

Results

Half (50%) of the 30 episodes analyzed contained at least one weight-stigmatizing incident. Both youth- and adult-targeted shows contained weight-stigmatizing comments, but the percent of these comments was much higher for youth-targeted (55.6%) than general audience-targeted shows (8.3%). Male characters were more likely than females to engage in (72.7% vs. 27.3%), and be the targets of, weight stigma (63.6% vs. 36.4%), and there was no difference in the amount of weight stigmatizing directed at average weight females compared to overweight females. Targets of these instances showed a negative response in only about one-third of cases, but audience laughter followed 40.9% of cases.

Discussion

The portrayal of weight stigmatization on popular television shows—including targeting women of average weight—sends signals to adolescents about the wide acceptability of this behavior and the expected response, which may be harmful. Prevention of weight stigmatization should take a multi-faceted approach and include the media. Future research should explore the impact that weight-related stigma in television content has on viewers. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, (Inc. Int J Eat Disord 2015; 48:759–766)

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