NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBS Connecticut) – Anti-obesity campaigns that imply personal blame are falling on deaf ears, stigmatizing overweight people in a way that blunts any potential momentum to help reduce people’s waistlines, according to a new study.

As more than two-thirds of Americans continue to struggle with being overweight or obese, recent research from Yale University indicates that anti-obesity messages of personal empowerment see greater turnaround and motivation to lose weight than those that blame people for being overweight. The study, which was conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale, assessed public perceptions of health campaigns and examined why more positive messages against obesity worked better than others.

Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the study used a national sample of 1,041 Americans through an online survey. The research discovered that those anti-obesity initiatives, mostly campaigns that made no mention of obesity, that promoted personal empowerment and attempted to instill confidence in people had more success. On the other hand, those campaigns promoting shame and blame received negative feedback, according to the study. The authors cited billboards for anti-obesity campaigns that had negative captions such as “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid,” and, “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents.”

The framing of these kinds of messages do not help the big-picture effort for a healthier America, the study found.

“By stigmatizing obesity or individuals struggling with their weight, campaigns can alienate the audience they intend to motivate and hinder the behaviors they intend to encourage,” said lead author Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center’s director of research, in a statement. “Public health campaigns that are designed to address obesity should carefully consider the kinds of messages that are disseminated, so that those who are struggling with obesity can be supported in their efforts to become healthier, rather than shamed and stigmatized.”


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