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Research challenges obesity stereotypes

MEDIA RELEASE: October 6 2021: Unconscious bias is rarely the star attraction in market research, but it’s exactly what Metrix Consulting wanted to capture for the TV documentary What Does Australia Really Think About Obesity?, which recently aired on SBS.

Presented by Australian singer Casey Donovan, the program brought to life the results of a national online survey into weight stigma, conducted in early 2021 by La Trobe University.

Metrix Managing Director Marquis Pohla.

Featuring a series of real-world experiments to capture people’s unconscious biases about body weight, the documentary also explored the impact media messages have on attitudes towards obesity and considered whether anything can be done to change those attitudes.

One of the key concerns highlighted was that 77% of participants agreed obesity is the result of what people eat and how much they exercise.

“Australians have very strong views about obesity. One of the tasks for the Metrix team was to see if we could challenge those views and see a real change in society’s perception,” says Metrix Managing Director Marquis Pohla.

Members of the public were shown two different videos. The first video reinforced the stereotype that being obese is the fault of the person; that it’s all about discipline, diet and exercise.

The second video showed a very different perspective.

“On hearing that some people can be genetically programmed to carry extra weight, participants became more sympathetic and compassionate,” Marquis says.

“It showed that people are open to challenging their views when presented with the evidence.

“The key now will be raising awareness and understanding of the topic, and that’s going to come through sharing information and research into obesity.”

Two thirds of Australian adults have a weight that is categorised as overweight or obese, yet weight stigma is widespread with very real side effects for people who live in larger bodies. It has direct impacts on social, mental and physical health.

“It was an honour to work with SBS to shine the spotlight on this important social issue and to highlight the mixed messages Australians hear and hold about obesity,” Marquis says.

The good news from the La Trobe University research is that 75% of Australians said they would stand up for someone being shamed because of their weight. The research also revealed 82% agree it’s unfair to discriminate against someone because of their weight and 79% agree the media should reflect Australians of all shapes and sizes.

What Does Australia Really Think About Obesity? is available on SBS On Demand. It’s part of a series of documentaries exploring what Australians think about a number of stigmatised characteristics.

Website: Metrix Consulting

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