The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has issued new guidelines that aim to “educate media representatives on how to appropriately discuss the disease of obesity in the media.” Titled “Guidelines for Media Portrayals of Individuals Affected by Obesity,” the report notes that the media is an “important and influential source of information about obesity,” and the manner in which obesity, weight-loss and weight maintenance are portrayed, described and framed by the media “profoundly shapes the public’s understanding and attitudes toward these important health issues and the individuals affected by them.”

Describing the media as “an especially pervasive source of stigmatization against people with obesity,” Rudd Center researchers note that photographs and videos tend to portray people with obesity as headless (i.e., only from the shoulders down), from unflattering angles (e.g., with only their abdomens or lower bodies shown), and engaging in stereotypical behaviors (e.g., eating unhealthy foods or engaging in sedentary behavior), which “degrade[s] and dehumanize[s] people with obesity, while spreading false assumptions and oversimplifying the complex issue of obesity.”

“Considerable evidence shows that the media often reinforces negative weight-based stereotypes, perpetuating societal bias towards children and adults affected by obesity,” said Rudd Center Deputy Director Rebecca Puhl. “These new media guidelines offer multiple strategies to promote appropriate, non-stigmatizing reporting of obesity, and call upon media representatives to give careful consideration to language and images used in their reporting of obesity.”