The introduction of plus-size clothing ranges is leading to an increase in plus-size people, research from England suggests.
Clothes tailored for men and women with larger bodies have been lauded in the past as a key strategy for reducing the personal stigma often associated with being overweight or obese.
However, a paper published in the journal Obesity by sociologist Raya Muttarak from the University of East Anglia reveals that the well-intentioned move towards “body positivity” is also producing a negative effect.
As plus-size ranges become more common, obesity is becoming normalised in sections of the community, leading to an increase in at-risk people deciding not to take steps to reduce their weight.
Muttarak analysed responses from 23,460 overweight or obese people who were asked to estimate how much they weighed.
She found a significant uptick in the proportion of men and women whose estimates were significantly below the real figure. Looking at change over time, she found that the percentage of men misperceiving their weight had increased from 48.4% in 1997 to 57.9% in 2015. For women, the proportion rose from 24.5% to 30.6% in the same period.
Mismatch between estimated and actual weight was most common among respondents with low education or income levels, and among members of English ethnic minorities.
Muttarak also found that among respondents who underestimated their weight, some 85% saw no reason to engage in weight-loss behaviours.
“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalisation of being overweight and obese,” Muttarak says.
“While this type of body positive movement helps reduce stigmatisation of larger-sized bodies, it can potentially undermine the recognition of being overweight and its health consequences. The increase in weight misperception in England is alarming and possibly a result of this normalisation.”
Research conducted last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that 63% of UK adults are either overweight or obese.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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