WIN Wyoming and WIN the Rockies
Body Size Portrayal and Television
The Rudd Institute funded a research project to look at how different body
types are portrayed on television. The study looked at 1018 major television
characters on the 10 top-rated fictional series for the networks of ABC, CBS,
Fox, NBC, UPN and WB during the 1999-2000 season. At least five episodes were
analyzed for each series. Researchers measured the body type of major characters
by examining their silhouettes. Results of the study appeared in the August 2003
issue of the American Journal of Public Health. I want to thank Carol
Peterson, from the Wyoming Department of Health, for sending me the article.
- The Rudd Institute’s mission is to "document, understand, and
ameliorate the bias, stigma, and discrimination associated with
obesity." The Institute’s motto is to "see the person, not the
pounds." The Institute is also involved in the training of medical and
health professionals to be more aware of obesity bias. For more information
on the Rudd Institute, visit their website at
- Only 3 percent of the major television female characters studied were
obese, but one-third of the females were underweight. In the adult female
population in the United States, approximately one in four is obese, and one
in 20 is underweight. "The sheer difference between the types of bodies
that can be found on TV and those found in our population was staggering to
me," says Ken Lachlan, co-author of the article. "I expected that
the results might be in that direction, but I never thought the difference
would be that dramatic."
- The difference in body size between television characters and the general
population was not as dramatic for males. Twenty-seven percent of males on
TV were overweight, compared to 59 percent of males being overweight in the
- Lack of body size diversity on television was not the only finding from
the study. The study also found that larger characters on TV were more
likely to be portrayed as the object of some kind of joke, as socially
incompetent, or as totally irrelevant to the events taking place. Larger
women were almost twice as likely to be the target of jokes as the thinner
women. The greatest amount of ridicule in the shows analyzed was aimed
toward the thinness male characters.
- The researchers concluded that overweight and obese characters were more
likely to be associated with negative characteristics. For example,
overweight and obese females were less likely to be considered attractive,
and overweight and obese males were more likely to be shown overeating.
- There are no rules or laws that state commercial television must be
representative of the American population. However, outside forces have
pressured the television industry into portraying certain groups in a more
positive manner. Gender and racial portrayals have received the most
emphasis in previous research studies, but studies like this one may
pressure the television industry into portraying large individuals in a more
Dotings R. Overweight TV characters have image problem. HealthDay. August
11, 2003. Available at
Accessed August 15, 2003.
Greenberg BS, Eastin M, Hofschire L, Lachlan K, and Brownell KD. Portrayals
of overweight and obese individuals on commercial television. American
Journal of Public Health. 2003;93: 1342-1348.
The Rudd Institute. Available at
Accessed August 15, 2003.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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