TV soap characters 'too thin' and damaging for morale, says research

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The Independent Online

Overweight men and women are being ignored by TV soaps, say researchers, even though one in four of the population is now classed as obese.

Overweight men and women are being ignored by TV soaps, say researchers, even though one in four of the population is now classed as obese.

The researchers, who looked at 56 different TV series, including prime time hits in Britain such as Friends, ER and Frasier, found too that one in three of the women characters in the programmes was not just slim, but seriously underweight. They also discovered that male television characters are six times more likely to be slim than men in real life.

Now the researchers, from Michigan University in the US, are warning that this lack of prime time representation could lead to discrimination. The few overweight and obese television characters there are on TV, have fewer romantic interactions and fewer friendships, and are never leaders.

"Whereas one in four women in reality is obese, the TV figure is three in 100. And whereas five per cent of all women in reality are underweight, nearly one in three on television has that body type," said Professor Bradley Greenberg. "The larger characters were less likely to be shown helping with tasks, less likely to be perpetrators of violence, less likely to demonstrate physical affection, less likely to date, less likely to have sex. They were, however, more likely to be seen eating and to be the objects of humour." Ultra thin women, on the other hand, who dominate soaps, were rarely made fun of and were almost never seen eating.

"The extent to which the overweight individual is absent or minimized on television warrants investigation," said Prof Greenberg. "If a particular group is ignored, such groups are deemed of lesser value and importance. Obese children and teenagers are more often excluded from peer groups, are discriminated against by adults, report psychological stress, and have a poor body image and low self esteem.''

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