Study finds the body-positive movement is probably contributing to the obesity crisis

Tanya Edwards
Photo: Getty Images

Newly released research could strike a blow to the body-positivity movement because it shows that the normalization of larger body sizes is leading to increasing numbers of people underestimating their weight. Consequently, some individuals are not making an effort to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

The study by Raya Muttarak, DPhil, from the University of East Anglia and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, published today in the journal Obesity, showed that the number of overweight people who who underestimate their weight has increased over time, from 48.4 percent to 57.9 percent in men and 24.5 percent to 30.6 percent in women between 1997 and 2015.

The past few years have seen a rise in a movement called body positivity, which seeks to end fat shaming, increase self-esteem, and generally make people feel good in their own skin. Models like Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence have been at the forefront of this movement; Graham launched a best-selling size-inclusive swimwear line.

However, this movement seems to have had a negative impact on our collective health.

“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalization of being overweight and obese,” said Muttarak in a release. “While this type of body-positive movement helps reduce stigmatization of larger-sized bodies, it can potentially undermine the recognition of being overweight and its health consequences.”

The researchers also learned that people with lower income were more affected by exposure to overweight bodies.

“Likewise, the higher prevalence of being overweight and obesity among individuals with lower levels of education and income may contribute to visual normalization — that is, more regular visual exposure to people with excess weight than their counterparts with higher socioeconomic status have.”

The researchers suggested that the price of healthy foods was likely a contributing factor to those with lower incomes and suggested addressing those inequalities in an effort to curb the obesity crisis.

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