Political affiliation and personal body size may affect the extent to which people believe weight to be genetic or based on lifestyle, according to a study published in the journal American Politics Research. Republicans, the study found, were more likely to attribute weight to lifestyle factors, while Democrats more frequently believed weight was a product of genes.
The study’s authors suggest group identity affects how people view their own weight as well as the factors that contribute to that weight. This has significant implications for the public health policy measures people are willing to support, including programs that address the role of weight in physical and mental health.
Does Group Identity Change Opinions About Weight?
The study, which asked questions about political identity and body size, found Republicans saw weight as a product of exercise and diet regardless of their body size. Democrats, however, changed their views about body size based on their own self-described body type. Democrats who described themselves as overweight were more likely to attribute weight to genetic factors.
The study’s authors say political orientation and size may motivate the extent to which people want to see weight as something within their control. People who are classified as obese often face blame and discrimination for their size, but if public policies are shaped to show obesity as a group of circumstances beyond individual control, the study’s authors suggest discrimination might decrease.2016 study found preschoolers who go to bed early are less likely to be classified as obese. The study’s authors suggest this may be because they get more sleep. Previous research has linked sleep deprivation and sleep disorders to weight gain.
Weight and Mental Health
Weight, particularly perceptions about weight, can significantly affect mental health. People labeled overweight may feel pressure to lose weight. For some people, the pressure to become or remain a certain physical size can lead to eating disorders, malnutrition, or intense anxiety.
Some research suggests a negative self-image may contribute to weight gain. For example, a 2015 study linked negative body image to an increased risk of obesity. A 2014 study linked loved ones’ negative comments about weight to an increased risk of weight gain.
- Haider-Markel, D. P., & Joslyn, M. R. (2017). “Nanny State” politics: Causal attributions about obesity and support for regulation. American Politics Research. doi:10.1177/1532673×17691493
- Political affiliation, weight influence your opinion on fighting obesity, study finds. (2017, March 6). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/uok-paw030317.php
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