Ethnic Stereotypes May Contribute To Obesity

The negative impact of ethnic stereotypes may also contribute to obesity – and related illnesses – among minorities, according to a new study.

The study, from researchers at Rutgers University, suggests that stereotyping and the feelings that it can evoke in minorities can lead to unhealthy choices, including food.

“When you are exposed to negative stereotypes, you may gravitate more toward unhealthy foods as opposed to healthy foods,” said Luis Rivera, an experimental social psychologist at Rutgers, in a news release. “You may have a less positive attitude toward watching your carbs or cutting back on fast food, and toward working out and exercising.”

That makes losing weight especially difficult, Rivera said.

The study focused on both Latinos and whites from the same neighborhood, and found that while fewer whites believed that demeaning stereotypes commonly used to describe Hispanics were accurate, Hispanics themselves were more likely to attribute the stereotypes to themselves.

“Somewhere in their heads they are making the connection that the stereotype is Latino, I am Latino, and therefore I am the stereotype,” said Rivera.
According to the results of the study, Hispanics who were more likely to attribute negative stereotypes to themselves were also more than three times more likely to be overweight or obese.

Latinos born in the United States were more likely than recent Hispanic immigrants to be impacted by the stereotypes, Rivera added, which showcases the power of negative stereotypes and how deeply ingrained they are in the U.S.

Overcoming such negative self-assessments can go a long way toward making people feel more empowered and boost self-esteem, so they may be less likely to make bad decisions regarding themselves and their health, Rivera said.

“It has been shown that when you remind people what they’re good at, it works to immunize them from the effect of stereotypes,” he added. “It releases their anxieties and allows them to focus on the task before them and perform to their ability.”

The study appeared recently in the Journal of Social Issues.

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