From Cornell University:
blogger’s weight affects her or his credibility with readers seeking
food advice, according to a Cornell study published online and in a
forthcoming print issue of the journal Health Communication.
The study revealed that when a blogger is overweight, as shown in the
blogger’s photo, readers are far more skeptical of the information that
blogger provides when compared with a thin blogger’s recommendations,
even when the content is exactly the same.
The findings are increasingly important as more than half of
smartphone users report that they use their device to look up
health-related information, making the internet one of the top places
people get informed about health issues.
“When we search for health information online, there are a lot of
related cues that can bias our perceptions in ways that we may not be
consciously aware of,” said Jonathon Schuldt, assistant professor of
communication and lead author of the study. “Awareness of these biases
could help us better navigate health information online,” he said. It
could also help us “avoid being swayed by nutritional information simply
because it is posted by someone who is thin rather than heavy,” he
But the study also suggests that “weight bias and prejudice – which
are so rampant in our society – can spill over and affect not only the
inferences we make about people, but also objects that are associated
with them,” Schuldt said.
In one experiment, 230 subjects were randomly assigned to one of two
groups. They were all shown photos of the same 10 meals – including
black bean and cheese quesadillas, chopped salad with croutons, sliced
beef with vegetables and so on. With each photo was also a thumbnail
photo depicting the supposed author of the blog post.
then asked to judge how healthy the meal was overall on a scale of one
to seven. The only thing that differed between the two groups was the
thumbnail photo of the blogger, which was a real picture of the same
person before and after weight loss.
The researchers found that when the photo of the overweight woman
accompanied the meal, “our participants perceived those meals to be less
healthy” than the same meal presented with a photo of a thin blogger.
“People appear to assume that if a heavier person is recommending food, it is probably richer and less healthy,” Schuldt said.
In a second experiment, the researchers also included calorie and fat
content information next to the image of the food and above the
thumbnail of the blogger. “What we found is that even when we provided
nutrient information that is much more relevant to the food’s health
quality, people are still strongly influenced by the body weight of the
recommender,” Schuldt said.
The researchers even went so far as to vary the fat and calorie
content, so that some subjects saw a healthy nutritional label and
others saw a label with approximately double the calorie content and
triple the fat. They found that this increase in fat and calories
influenced impressions to a similar extent as the heavy vs. thin
blogger, all else being equal.
“When we dramatically increased the fat and calorie content, it had
just as much impact as when we said the food was posted by a heavy
person,” Schuldt said.