SCOTTISH scientists are calling for anti-fat attitude classes to be held across the UK – in a bid to stop obese people being picked on.
In Scotland about 65 per cent of the population are overweight or obese, and new research has found negative perceptions of obesity are prevalent across the country.
The study, led by the University of Sheffield Hallam and supported by the University of Stirling, found that people who reported having anti-fat prejudices were more likely to mistreat people due to their weight. They also discovered that stigmatising obese people led to elevated depression, body image disturbance and lower self-esteem in people who were overweight.
Researchers say that targeting groups such as keep-fit enthusiasts and young males with “anti-fat attitude interventions” could help educate people about some of the uncontrollable causes of obesity.
The Scottish Government and health campaigners last night backed the findings of the research, but critics questioned whether public funding should go into the scheme.
More than 2,300 people from Scotland and across the rest of the UK took part in the study. Participants were asked to fill in online questionnaires discussing positive and negative attitudes towards overweight people and perceived controllability of obesity. The research, carried out by Dr Stuart Flint at Sheffield Hallam University and supported by Professor David Lavallee at the University of Stirling, found that males, younger respondents and more frequent exercisers were more likely to have negative attitudes towards fat people.
The research reported: “This is the first study to demonstrate anti-fat attitudes across different sections of the UK population. As such, this study provides the first indication of the prevalence of anti-fat attitudes in UK adults.
“Interventions to modify these attitudes could target specific groups of individuals with more negative perceptions as identified here. The findings of our research call for anti-fat attitude intervention in the UK. Education about the uncontrollable causes of obesity can reduce anti-fat attitudes.”
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “It is truly repugnant that some people feel it necessary to vilify people who seem to them to be obese. The researchers are quite correct in calling for education to combat the abusers’ ignorance.
“Obesity is frequently beyond the control of individuals affected and, even when it isn’t, those suffering from being extremely overweight deserve care more than name-calling.
“It might be impossible to reach everyone currently guilty of this sin but Scottish school curricula should ensure that children never resort to this behaviour “
Public health minister Maureen Watt said: “We are supportive of any campaign which will prevent people being stigmatised. There is a role for everyone in society to avoid stereotypes and consider individuals and their feelings.
“The latest Scottish Health Survey shows that 65 per cent of the adult population is overweight or obese, and that it is often the result of an environment which makes maintaining a healthy weight very difficult. We provide training for health professionals, through NHS Health Scotland, in raising the issue of child healthy weight to help them develop appropriate skills including values and attitudes around this sensitive area.”
Eben Wilson, of campaign group TaxpayersScotland, said: “Isn’t it strange how eager-beaver academics can propose the design of paradise without the slightest regard for the costs of their coercive behaviour modifications?”