That is a finding from a University of Otago study of 70 Dunedin infants and toddlers, and their parents.
The study, by researchers from New Zealand, Australia and the United States, followed other research showing obesity prejudice and discrimination were increasing.
The team showed the tots pairs of photos of people – one in which the person was obese, and the other in a normal weight range. Researchers also used questionnaires to gauge the mother’s attitude to obesity.
Professor Ted Ruffman, of Otago’s psychology department, said: “What we found is that younger infants, around 11 months of age, preferred to look at obese figures, whereas the older toddler group, around 32 months old, preferred to look at average-sized figures.” And that preference was “strongly related to maternal anti-fat prejudice”.
There was a high correlation – the more the mother had expressed anti-fat attitudes in the questionnaire, the more the older toddlers would “look away from the obese figure towards the normal weight one”.
The professor said anti-fat prejudice was “associated with social isolation, depression, psychiatric symptoms, low self-esteem and poor body image”.
He emphasised the research findings were not meant to be a “mother-blaming exercise”, but it indicated “how early children begin to absorb and display the attitudes of those around them”. Mothers tended to be the primary caregivers and were “just reflecting wider societal attitudes”.
Mums could be behind fat-phobic views, University of Otago research suggests
Stuff co.nz 24 November 2015
If mums are fat-phobic, chances are we will be too – at least that’s what new research suggests.
New findings from the University of Otago suggest older toddlers from about 32 months old are picking up on the anti-fat attitudes their mothers may have. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, came as a result of a four year-long study involving researchers from New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
University of Otago psychology professor Dr Ted Ruffman said the research seemed to suggest fat prejudice was increasing even though more people were overweight.
“Parental attitudes can influence a child’s attitudes,” he said.