Objective This study provides updated information regarding the prevalence and characteristics of weight stigma in popular adolescent television programming, using a sample of favorite shows named by diverse adolescents. Method Participants in a large, population-based study of Minnesota adolescents (N = 2,793, mean age = 14.4) listed their top three favorite television shows. A coding instrument was developed to analyze randomly selected episodes from the most popular 10 programs. Weight-stigmatizing incidents were compared across television show characteristics and characters' gender and weight status. Results Half (50%) of the 30 episodes analyzed contained at least one weight-stigmatizing incident. Both youth- and adult-targeted shows contained weight-stigmatizing comments, but the percent of these comments was much higher for youth-targeted (55.6%) than general audience-targeted shows (8.3%). Male characters were more likely than females to engage in (72.7% vs. 27.3%), and be the targets of, weight stigma (63.6% vs. 36.4%), and there was no difference in the amount of weight stigmatizing directed at average weight females compared to overweight females. Targets of these instances showed a negative response in only about one-third of cases, but audience laughter followed 40.9% of cases. Discussion The portrayal of weight stigmatization on popular television shows - including targeting women of average weight - sends signals to adolescents about the wide acceptability of this behavior and the expected response, which may be harmful. Prevention of weight stigmatization should take a multi-faceted approach and include the media. Future research should explore the impact that weight-related stigma in television content has on viewers.
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- media exposure
- weight stigmatization
- weight teasing