Kids are Prejudiced Against Fat People By Age Four, Study Says

Fat shaming reaches a new low when kids that can barely form complete sentences already hate you.

They look so sweet and innocent. Kids in school photo via shutterstock.

They look so sweet and innocent. Kids in school photo via shutterstock.

Overweight people have to deal with a number of social issues everyday from simple stares to downright gawking. Now, they have to deal with children who don’t know any better. Or at least we think they don’t. A study out of the University of Leeds wanted to see how early kids can develop prejudice. They created three different versions of a children’s book about two friends, Alfie and Thomas. In one version, both Alfie and Thomas were “normal” looking kids. In another, Thomas was “normal” but Alfie was overweight. And in the third, Alfie was disabled in a wheelchair. The books were read to 126 children who ranged in age from four to six years old. Then children were then asked to rate Alfie and Thomas on a variety of features.

So what were the results? Will the future be a world where people can be themselves without judgement? Fat chance. The children overwhelmingly (and correctly) decided that fat Alfie and wheelchair Alfie would probably lose a running race against “normal” Thomas. However, they also assumed that fat Alfie would do poorly in school, would be unhappy with the way he looks, and would not get invited to parties. Poor fat Alfie. They also rated him as more likely to be naughty—this is a British study—and as having fewer friends than Thomas. Only one child out of 43 wanted to be friends with fat Alfie. Ouch.

According to The Atlantic, the implications are that kids are cruel and quick to reject those who are different from them. The Atlantic reports:

But we usually say that’s because they don’t know any better. That’s why so much of elementary school is spend learning to love and accept all kinds of people. But that they were much harsher critics of the fat character than the one with another — and less common — physical difference suggests that at their young age, they’ve already absorbed an upsetting message: that fat is a negative indicator of a person’s character, and that overweight people are undesirable as friends and as people.

So how can we overcome this as a society? The obesity rates keep rising. Do our attitudes need to change? Is this something that can be learned or even taught?