Revealed: why slim people dislike the overweight

From the taunting of the chubby child in the playground to cruel jibes at fat people in work and social settings, few could doubt there is widespread prejudice against the overweight. However, according to research reported in Evolution and Human Behavior some people suffer abuse because being too fat is mistaken by the brain for a sign of disease.

Researchers say the immune system can be triggered into action at the sight of obesity because it doesn't like the look of what it sees, and associates it with infection.

Just as it orchestrates attacks on viruses and bacteria and triggers nausea at the hint of bad food, so it sends out signals of disgust in some people at the sight of an obese body that is designed to encourage avoidance and survival.

The finding comes just days after research in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that obesity is contagious, in a social rather than bacteriological sense.

"Antipathy toward obese people is a powerful and pervasive prejudice in many contemporary populations. Our results reveal, for the first time, that this prejudice may be rooted in multiple, independent mechanisms. They provide the first evidence that obesity serves as a cue for pathogen infection,'' say the University of British Columbia researchers.

They say a behavioural immune system appears to have evolved in humans that is designed to detect body signs that are related to disease, like rashes and lesions. The sight of them triggers disgust as well as negative attitudes and avoidance. The system errs in favour of over-reacting because failure to react to a real danger could be fatal.

Researchers carried out a number of experiments, including word associations and tests where they compared the reactions and views of men and women to obesity.

The results show that people who agreed with comments such as "it really bothers me when people sneeze without covering their mouths" were more likely to agree with statement such as "if I were an employer looking to hire, I might avoid hiring a fat person". The greater the fear of disease, the stronger the negative feeling about obesity.

But Clarissa Dickson Wright, the surviving half of the Two Fat Ladies cookery duo, said the research merely served to cover up the general prejudice of narrow-minded people. "In the 1960s there were a lot of bigoted people who were anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-everything but when they couldn't get away with that any more they turned into food-Nazis instead and began attacking people who were fat," she said. "I suspect that this is what really drives people to be negative about fat people rather than an unconscious reaction.

Ms Dickson Wright said there was an aversion in America about even using the word "fat", as she found when her programme was shown there.

"Reporters asked me: 'How do you feel about the title of the show?' and I said: 'Which part? There's two of us and I hope you're not suggesting we're not ladies.' They just couldn't say the word."

"It's a way to put sexism on the agenda," said Beth Ditto, the lead singer for The Gossip.

"All this stuff completely negates what feminism stands for, and you can't act like that's not connected to other issues."

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect