Luis Rivera, an experimental social psychologist at Rutgers University-Newark
Exposure to racial discrimination may explain why members of some minority groups disproportionately suffer from obesity and being overweight, a new study purports.
Led by Luis Rivera, an experimental social psychologist at Rutgers University-Newark, the study found that Blacks and Latinos are routinely subjected to negative stereotypes and pervasive messages that lower their self-esteem. As a result, they are less motivated to eat healthy foods or otherwise pursue a healthy lifestyle.
“When you are exposed to negative stereotypes, you may gravitate more toward unhealthy foods as opposed to healthy foods,” Rivera said in a statement. “You may have a less positive attitude toward watching your carbs or cutting back on fast food, and toward working out and exercising.”
In one example, Rivera found that Latinos involved in the study were much more likely than Whites to agree the negative stereotypes associated with Hispanics applied to them. Those Latinos who strongly self-stereotyped were three times as likely to be overweight or obese as those who did not.
What can be done to counteract the destructive effect of prejudice? Rivera cited research which suggested that exposure to positive racial and ethnic role models might help. He said another promising approach would be the design of weight loss solutions that emphasize a person’s positive qualities as a means of counteracting the corrosive effects of racism.
“It has been shown that when you remind people what they’re good at, it works to immunize them from the effect of stereotypes,” Rivera said. “It releases their anxieties and allows them to focus on the task before them and perform to their ability.”
The study, “Stereotypes Can ‘Get Under the Skin’: Testing a Self-Stereotyping and Psychological Resource Model of Overweight and Obesity,” appears in the summer 2014 edition of the Journal of Social Issues.