Children shun obese story characters such as 'fat Alfie'

StudyStudy investigated children's ratings of, and choices between, story characters drawn as overweight and normal. (Thinkstock)

Young children reject story characters who are overweight and obese such as 'fat Alfie', a new study suggests. Research by the University of Leeds has shown that very young children appear to reject story book characters who are overweight, but not those who are disabled.

Led by Professor Andrew Hill from the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, the research investigated young children's ratings of, and choices between, story characters drawn as overweight, normal weight, or disabled.

It found that children voiced negative views about the fictional book character "fat Alfie".

More than 100 UK reception and primary school pupils were read a storybook which covered the same plot.

Using colour illustrations and a simple text narrative, the books only differed in the way that the main character was drawn.

After the story, children rated Alfie and also Thomas, one of the other children in the book who was always normal weight, on several attributes and behaviours. Clear differences were apparent when children chose between Alfie and Thomas.

Fat Alfie was less likely to win a race, do good school work, be happy with the way he looks, get invited to parties, and more likely to be naughty at school.

In contrast, wheelchair Alfie was less likely to do good school work or get invited to parties.

Both fat Alfie and wheelchair Alfie were rejected in favour of Thomas as a personal friend. In particular, only one of 43 children chose fat Alfie over Thomas.

"This research confirms young children's awareness of the huge societal interest in body size. It shows that by school entry age UK children have taken on board the negativity associated with fatness and report it's penalties in terms of appearance, school activities, and socially," Hill said.

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