I wouldn’t consider myself sizeist (that is, prejudiced against people of heavier weight). I’m a proud size 10-12, after all. But a new study out of Cornell University has given me pause. Researchers discovered that readers are more skeptical of health and nutrition information when it comes from an overweight-looking blogger as opposed to a thin one.
The study, which was published in the journal Health Communication, divided participants into two groups. Each group was shown a blog post that featured the same photos of 10 meals and a photo of the blogger who supposedly wrote it. The only difference between what the two groups saw was the photo of the blogger: one group was given a photo of a person before weight loss and the other group was given a photo of the same person after weight loss. Researchers found that when the photo of the heavier blogger accompanied the post, participants rated the meals in the photos as less healthy.
Even when researchers provided nutrition information along with the photos of the meals, participants were still influenced by the blogger’s body weight. ‘People appear to assume that if a heavier person is recommending food, it is probably richer and less healthy,’ says study lead author Jonathon Schuldt, in a press release.
Researchers conducted the study to increase awareness of the unconscious biases we may have when we look for health information online. Not only might we be prejudiced against heavier bloggers, but we may also be too easily swayed by writers, pinners and Instagrammers who are thin.
That’s disconcerting, considering how much we rely on the internet for health information ‘ roughly 74 percent of Canadian women search online for info related to health or medical conditions. But this sort of weight stigma extends to offline life as well. A 2013 study suggests that patients mistrust health information when it comes from an overweight doctor.
How can we overcome our own weight biases if we don’t even know we have them? Double-check the sources on everything you read. Is the information based on sound research? Does the author have the appropriate training and experience to offer advice? When it comes to health-related info, it’s a reliable source ‘ not the appearance of the author ‘ that truly matters.