The perceptions of elementary school-age children toward overweight peers

Date of Completion

January 2003


Psychology, Social|Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Developmental




Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States, affecting children of all ages. Overweight children tend to participate in fewer activities, withdraw from social situations, and become less physically active. Additionally, obese children tend to have lower self-images, and often suffer from depression (Quinn & Crocker, 1999). Research has demonstrated the ways in which obese adults, particularly women, are stigmatized. They face discrimination at work, at home, and in their interpersonal relationships (Rothblum, 1992). Research on children in this area is less common, and the studies that have been completed tend to focus on adolescents. However, a study by Cramer and Steinwert (1998) examined the perceptions of preschool children toward their overweight peers. Results indicated that both boys and girls perceive obese peers as less likeable, and furthermore, these biases were stronger toward children of the opposite gender. Theorists believe that significant developmental differences exist between preschool and elementary school age children. For this reason, the current investigation is an extension of the unique research conducted by Cramer and Steinwert, and replicates many elements of their design using elementary school age children. Subjects were asked to listen to four stories, two involving females and two involving males. Following each story, the children were presented with obese and non-obese target pictures, and asked to match these two pictures of children with the ‘nice’ and ‘mean’ characters from the story. Analysis of the overall main effect was calculated using a Paired-samples t-test. A one-way ANOVA was used to analyze the interaction effects between gender (2) x story (4). Additionally, between-subjects and within-subjects tests were completed to determine the significance levels for the main effects of gender and story type. Results showed that there was an overall main effect, indicating that the number of ‘nice’ responses given to non-obese target figures was significantly greater than the number of ‘nice’ responses given to obese target figures. No gender effects were noticed between subjects, and there were no significant cross-gender effects. Thus, all subjects were equally critical of male and female obese target figures. ^