Research Highlight

What people think of the obese

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2008.281 Published online 12 September 2008

Obese people face a lot of social perception.

If you are obese, people might take you for being lethargic, greedy, political, money-minded, selfish and rich, a new survey on social perceptions of obesity has revealed1.

Obese people are thought to be metabolically 'thrifty', saving energy during times of food abundance. Researchers from the Abhasaheb Garware College in Pune tested whether body proportions and, abdominal obesity in particular, were perceived as signals revealing personality traits.

Faceless drawings of three male body forms — lean, muscular and feminine — each with and without abdominal obesity were shown to 222 respondents. A list of 30 different adjectives or short descriptions of personality traits was given to each respondent and they were asked to allocate the most appropriate figure to each of them.

Based on common choices, the 30 were clustered into distinct 'personalities' which were strongly associated with particular body forms. The survey found that body proportions were perceived to reflect personality traits. The researchers say this raises the possibility that in addition to energy storage, social selection may have played some role in shaping the biology of obesity. "We found that people use body proportion to infer personality and social status," says one of the researchers Milind Watve.


  1. Mankar, M. et al. Obesity as a Perceived Social Signal. PLOS ONE 3, e3187 doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0003187 (2008) | Article |