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Reporting risk, producing prejudice: how news reporting on obesity shapes attitudes about health risk, policy, and prejudice.


News reporting on research studies may influence attitudes about health risk, support for public health policies, or attitudes towards people labeled as unhealthy or at risk for disease. Across five experiments (N = 2123) we examined how different news framings of obesity research influence these attitudes. We exposed participants to either a control condition, a news report on a study portraying obesity as a public health crisis, a news report on a study suggesting that obesity may not be as much of a problem as previously thought, or an article discussing weight-based discrimination. Compared to controls, exposure to the public health crisis article did not increase perception of obesity-related health risks but did significantly increase the expression of antifat prejudice in four out of seven comparisons. Across studies, compared to controls, participants who read an article about weight-based discrimination were less likely to agree that overweight constitutes a public health crisis or to support various obesity policies. Effects of exposure to an article questioning the health risks associated with overweight and obesity were mixed. These findings suggest that news reports on the "obesity epidemic" - and, by extension, on public health crises commonly blamed on personal behavior - may unintentionally activate prejudice.

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