(CBS) What's feeding America's obesity epidemic? Experts have blamed everything from junk food and sedentary jobs to a failure to exercise - or to exercise self-control. But now psychologists at Yale University say they've identified another culprit - the media.
For years, magazines, websites, and other media have been slammed for using pictures of skinny models - psychologists say the images promote eating disorders by giving young women a wildly unrealistic view of the female form. Now the Yale docs say photos and videos that depict obese people stuffing their faces with fatty food or sprawling self-indulgently on a sofa are pushing fat people toward even bigger bodies.
Talk about irony.
Dr. Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, calls the stereotype-promoting portrayals have become a major public health problem.
"These images greatly influence people's quality of life, both psychologically and in terms of physical health," she told CBS News. "They can lead to unhealthy behaviors that reinforce weight gain. They can lead to binging and avoidance of physical activity, and even lead people to drop out of weight-loss programs."
It's hard to tell just how big an impact the photos are having on our obesity epidemic, but Puhl said studies suggest that recent decades had seen a dramatic rise in the number of fat people saying they had been the victims of "weight-based" discrimination. And, she said, research has shown that people "internalize" the negative portrayals of obesity - and that some people turn to food in an effort to cope with the negative feelings.
If pictures are part of the obesity problem, what's the solution? Puhl and her colleagues decided to fight fire with fire. They created their own obesity image bank. Instead of images of "fat slobs," the online resource gives journalists free access to images that portray fatties in a favorable light.
Want to take a peek at the pictures Puhl doesn't want you to see?