Mothers' Anti-Obesity Attitude Influences Toddlers

Nov 24, 2015 12:00 PM EST | By N. Cagahastian


The latest statistics of obesity is quite alarming. The number of overweight people in the United States is rising. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rates of overweight and obese individuals have increased from 63 percent for men and 55 percent for women 20 years ago to 75 percent and 67 percent, respectively today.

A few studies have already attempted to explain this significant change and offer solutions to solve the growing issue. Moreover, a study from New Zealand's University of Otago found out that toddlers are picking up on the anti-obesity attitudes of their mothers. It was observed that older toddlers (as young as 32 months) develop their attitudes according to their mothers' attitude to obesity.

Professor Ted Ruffman of Otago's Department of Psychology defined anti-fat or anti-obesity prejudice to be associated with "social isolation, depression, psychiatric symptoms, low self-esteem and poor body image".

To prove that anti-fat prejudice has an earlier origin, the research team involved 70 infants and toddlers   a couple of people's photos: a picture of an obese person and another person who has a normal weight range. The individuals on the photos had their faces covered so as the toddlers focus on the body types. The team also used questionnaires to gauge the mothers' attitudes towards obesity.

They observed that the younger infants (11 months of age) looked at the obsess figures more while the older toddler group (32 months old) preferred to look at the healthy-sized bodies. Prof. Ruffman concluded that preference was strongly correlated to the mothers' anti-fat prejudice. The more the toddler's mother had expressed anti-obesity attitudes in the survey, the more the toddler would look away from the obese figure towards the average-sized one.

Prof. Ruffman explained that the study is not meant to be a mother-blaming exercise but rather proves that anti-fat prejudice is not innate but is actually learned socially. 

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