Study: ‘Hurtful Messages’ Could Contribute to Obesity in Minorities

Penny Starr, CNS News, September 3, 2014

Research led by Rutgers University concludes that ethnic minorities’ tendency to be more obese than other populations could be caused by “hurtful messages” and stereotypes that diminish motivation to stay fit.

“Rutgers-led research finds that exposure to hurtful messages might diminish motivation to lose weight,” an article about the research posted on Rutgers’ website said.

“Many Americans need extraordinary willpower to avoid becoming obese–or to slim down if they already weigh too much,” the Aug. 25 article stated.

The research project was led by Luis Rivera, an experimental psychologist at Rutgers, who concluded the messages that suggest some groups are “inferior” make it harder for them to care about their health.

“When you are exposed to negative stereotypes, you may gravitate more toward unhealthy foods as opposed to healthy foods,” said Rivera, whose study appears in the Journal of Social Issues. “You may have a less positive attitude toward watching your carbs or cutting back on fast food, and toward working out and exercising.”

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Rivera found that the Latinos he studied were significantly more likely than whites to agree that negative stereotypes commonly used to describe Hispanics applied to them. That suggested to Rivera that “somewhere in their heads they are making the connection that the stereotype is Latino, I am Latino, and therefore I am the stereotype.”

The Hispanics who were part of the research “self-stereotyped” themselves because of negative “messages,” resulting in higher rates of obesity, the article said.

“Hispanics in the study who strongly self-stereotyped were more than three times as likely to be overweight or obese as those who did not,” the article stated. “The data suggest that self-stereotypes diminish self-esteem–and therefore the motivation that might have helped them follow a healthier lifestyle.”

{snip}

The article stated that aside from race, the people used for the research were similar in every other way–where they lived, access to healthy food, and income levels.

Rivera suggested in the article that “positive racial and ethnic role models” could be beneficial.

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