BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Irrespective of whether children are being overtly mean to fellow kids that are overweight, they’re also subconsciously implicitly biased against them, according to a study posted in the journal Pediatrics.
The study, which analyzed the behaviors of 114 kids, was conducted using a method known as Affect Misattribution Procedure. Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Asheley Skinner, said this method has not been used prior to this study on this particular topic.
The authors used a research method that primes subjects by using quick flashes of a series of carefully selected images that depict the study topic, juxtaposed with neutral images. Skinner said the study is the first to use this method, known as the Affect Misattribution Procedure, to consider attitudes that children have about weight.
“The image used to measure bias showed a child engaging in an activity that was either related or unrelated to weight, like running or participating in class. Photographs alternately showed children involved in the activities who were either healthy weight or overweight, but were otherwise similar.
Study participants first viewed an image of a child engaging in an activity, followed by a neutral, abstract image. They then rated the abstract image “good” or “bad.”
After study participants saw these photographs, they were shown a neutral, abstract image, and asked to rate it as “good” or “bad.” On average, participants rated 64 percent of the abstract images preceded by images of children who were healthy weight as “good,” but did so for only 59 percent of second images preceded by children who were overweight, a difference that was statistically significant among the participants.”
“When children are stigmatized for being overweight, it can cause further weight gain and other health consequences,” said Skinner, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, via MedicalXpress. “Given that, we felt that it was important to determine if we could identify unconscious attitudes towards weight in this 9-to-11 age group.”
Researchers said that there shouldn’t have been a difference between the neutral images. They quantified the gap to a 5 percent implicit bias rate.
“The main takeaway is that weight bias and a preference for thin people appears to start at a fairly young age,” Skinner said. “Knowing that this kind of implicit bias exists among children this age allows us to potentially be more aware of the unintended ways that children who are overweight might be stigmatized.”
The study may lay the foundation for future studies to better deal with bullying and obesity.
“Implicit bias is important because it may underlie decisions among children about friendship, participation on sports teams and even bullying,” said Eliana Perrin, the study’s co-principal investigator and professor of pediatrics at Duke. “It’s essential to raise awareness about this kind of bias because it can have real consequences for children.”