In a new study, researchers have found that heavier models in ads are trending that affecting our lifestyle, eating habits and more importantly increasing obesity.
The study from Simon Fraser University in Canada found that as advertising campaigns increasingly use fewer images of models that are underweight and aesthetically flawless – instead utilising non-traditional models with larger body types – the tactic can have a detrimental effect on the public’s lifestyle and eating behaviour.
The researchers including Lily Lin, from the California State University, conducted five experiments to see how subjects would react to cues suggesting that obesity was acceptable.
In each instance the subjects displayed a greater intended or actual consumption of unhealthy food and a reduced motivation to engage in a healthier lifestyle, driven by an increased belief that obesity was more socially acceptable.
The study’s authors posit that efforts to increase acceptance are resulting in increasing the amount of thought consumers put into their appearance and heightening body anxiety – ironically the opposite of what many of these marketing campaigns are trying to achieve.
The findings have implications for both public policy makers and advertisers.
The researchers advise both to be mindful of how individuals’ bodies are portrayed in the media, and develop new strategies that do not focus on suggesting any shape is “good” or “bad”.
“Although this study demonstrates that accepting larger bodies results is associated with negative consequences, research also shows that ‘fat-shaming’ – or stigmatising such bodies – fails to improve motivation to lose weight,” said study co-author Brent McFerran, assistant professor at the Beedie School of Business.
“Since neither accepting nor stigmatising larger bodies achieves the desired results, it would be beneficial for marketers and policy makers to instead find a middle ground – using images of people with a healthy weight, and more importantly, refraining from drawing attention to the body size issue entirely,” said McFerran.
The study was published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.