Source:Robinson T, Callister M, Jankoski T. Portrayal of body weight on children’s television sitcoms: a content analysis.
Body Image.
151; doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2007.11.004

Researchers from Brigham Young University examined how preadolescent and adolescent characters’ body sizes are presented on sitcoms aired on three children’s television networks.

A convenience sample of four episodes from each of 19 non-animated sitcom programs on The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Discovery Kids was recorded during September 2005. The weight of each major and minor character was coded using an adaptation of the five body types from the Children’s Body Image Scale (CBIS): “very thin,” “thin,” “average,” “overweight,” and “obese.”1 

Forty-eight percent of the characters were female and 52% were male. Seventy-one percent of the characters were Caucasian, 22% were African American, 3% were Hispanic, and 1% were Asian-American. Mental, physical, and social characteristics were coded by examining appearance, intelligence, popularity, activity level, personality type, leadership qualities, and physical characteristics.

The most common body type found among child characters on children’s sitcoms was average weight (47%) followed by below average weight (38%) and above average weight (15%). The Disney Channel provided the greatest diversity of characters’ body weights (32.9% below average weight characters, 45.6% average weight characters, and 21.5% above average weight characters) whereas Discovery Kids had the least diversity (46.7% below average weight, 46.7% average weight, and 6.6% above average weight characters).

Male and female characters did not differ in their distribution across weight categories. Caucasian characters were predominantly of average weight (46%) or below average weight (43%) with only a few of above average weight (11%). African-American characters, however, were more likely to be portrayed as above average weight (28%) and less likely to be of below average weight (19%).

No differences were observed in the portrayal of physical and mental attributes across weight categories, with the exception of social popularity where overweight characters were not as embedded in social networks. Most characters, regardless of body weight, enjoyed “many friends” but above average weight characters were coded more often as having “no friends” than characters in the other two weight categories. The authors conclude that portrayal of overweight characters on children’s television sitcoms is somewhat more positive, equitable, and less stereotypical than in other television program venues.

Dr. Pujazon-Zazik has disclosed no financial relationship relevant to this commentary. This commentary does not contain a discussion of an unapproved/investigative use of a commercial product/device.

Prime-time television programs present body types that are difficult, if not impossible, to attain. These body types have become a common source of comparison for many young viewers who evaluate their own self-worth and bodies based on the expertly styled actors they see on television.

Social Comparison Theory states that people establish their own identity through making comparisons between themselves and others who have valued qualities (such as an idealized body size).2 When individuals make comparisons to others who have valued attributes they can become discouraged and develop negative self-esteem.3 

Although these...

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