Toddlers' bias to look at average versus obese figures relates to maternal anti-fat prejudice

Ted Ruffman, Kerry S. O'Brien, Mele Taumoepeau, Janet D. Latner, John A. Hunter

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Anti-fat prejudice (weight bias, obesity stigma) is strong, prevalent, and increasing in adults and is associated with negative outcomes for those with obesity. However, it is unknown how early in life this prejudice forms and the reasons for its development. We examined whether infants and toddlers might display an anti-fat bias and, if so, whether it was influenced by maternal anti-fat attitudes through a process of social learning. Mother-child dyads (N= 70) split into four age groups participated in a preferential looking paradigm whereby children were presented with 10 pairs of average and obese human figures in random order, and their viewing times (preferential looking) for the figures were measured. Mothers' anti-fat prejudice and education were measured along with mothers' and fathers' body mass index (BMI) and children's television viewing time. We found that older infants (M= 11 months) had a bias for looking at the obese figures, whereas older toddlers (M= 32 months) instead preferred looking at the average-sized figures. Furthermore, older toddlers' preferential looking was correlated significantly with maternal anti-fat attitudes. Parental BMI, education, and children's television viewing time were unrelated to preferential looking. Looking times might signal a precursor to explicit fat prejudice socialized via maternal anti-fat attitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-202
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Anti-fat attitudes
  • Infancy
  • Obesity
  • Prejudice
  • Social learning
  • Toddlers

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