Bias against fat is waning, new poll finds

Thin is still in, but apparently fat is nowhere near as out as it used to be.

A survey finds America’s attitudes toward overweight people are shifting from rejection toward acceptance. Over a 20-year period, the percentage of Americans who said they find overweight people less attractive steadily dropped from 55 percent to 24 percent, the market research firm NPD Group found.

With about two-thirds of U.S. adults overweight, Americans seem more accepting of heavier body types, researchers say.

While body image remains a constant obsession, the national preoccupation with being thin has waned since the late 1980s and early 1990s, said NPD’s Harry Balzer.

Those were the days when fast food chains rushed to install salad bars. In 1989, salads as a main course peaked at 10 percent of all restaurant meals. Today, those salad bars have all but vanished and salads account for just 5.5 percent of main dishes.

“It turns out health is a wonderful topic to talk about,” Balzer said. “But to live that way is a real effort.”

Some argue that people are merely becoming more politically correct and that bias against fat people is actually growing sharper.

“These studies don’t pick up on implicit, unconscious bias,” said Kelly Brownell, head of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

“It’s like if you asked people around the country if they had racial bias. There’s a difference between what people say and what actually happens,” Brownell said.

Researchers at Cornell also found that negative attitudes about obesity persist.

The NPD study results may simply be a sign of “resignation from overweight people,” Brownell said, noting that it’s likely a majority of survey respondents were overweight.

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