"At least you don't look like some kind of bloated roadside piñata! You really should think about going on a diet!" cries Puss in Boots in "Shrek The Third."
"Look at you! This fat butt, flabby arms ... and this ridiculous belly!" sneers Master Shifu in "Kung Fu Panda."
The world isn't kind to fat people, and neither are some of the past years' most beloved children's movies.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found at least one instance of stigma about fat people in an overwhelming majority -- 70 percent -- of the children's films they analyzed. Twenty percent of films also contained stigma about underweight people.
At the same time, the majority of films also portrayed behaviors that lead to overweight and obesity. Seventy-five percent of movies showed unhealthy snacks, 60 percent showed exaggerated portion sizes and 55 percent of movies showed sugar-sweetened drinks.
"This creates a double-edged sword," wrote researchers in the study, published recently in the medical journal Obesity. "Few healthy eating behaviors are modeled, yet once someone actually becomes overweight, he or she becomes the subject of ridicule."
In this scene from "Shrek The Third," Puss in Boots mocks Donkey's body after a body switch.
The researchers, led by Dr. Eliana Perrin M.D., M.P.H., analyzed the four top-grossing movies rated G or PG from 2006 to 2010. They then broke down those films, which include "Happy Feet," "Ratatouille," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," into 10-minute segments and watched them with a tablet or laptop in hand to "code" the films in real time. For every 10-minute segment, the researchers checked boxes whenever they saw things like sugar-sweetened beverages or emotional eating. They also checked boxes when they saw stigma, like insults, about being overweight or underweight. They also made qualitative observations about how body size was portrayed in the films.
For instance, one coder noted that in "Wall-E," portrayed human beings are "so obese they are incapable of walking and spend all day lounging on hover chairs and drinking giant beverages."
For "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the least-impressive guest at a group dinner "is the one who most quickly shovels ice cream into his mouth."
"There are so many school programs and organizations working hard to combat bullying and stigmatizing behavior," said Perrin in a phone interview with Huffington Post. "It was really interesting for us to see [stigma] throughout children's films as being very normalized."
In this scene from "Kung Fu Panda," Master Shifu explains why Po will never succeed at kung fu.
There are limitations to Perrin's study. For instance, many of the animated films feature anthropomorphized animals, which complicates coders' interpretation of "healthy" eating behaviors. It even complicates stigma, because larger animals like pandas and mammoths are usually the butt of weight-based jokes but are also naturally larger.
Secondly, Perrin's coders didn't make note of the pushback to weight-based stigma contained within the movies themselves. For example, in "Kung Fu Panda," Po the Panda is told that he will never master kung fu partly because of his "ridiculous belly." But does Po's eventual triumph send a positive message that discipline and dedication, not weight, determines fate?
Perrin will explore the effect that stigmatized weight portrayals have on young viewers in a new study, slated for next year.
"The next phase of our research is going to look at if children take each of these comments and understand them separately or if they look at the whole gestalt," said Perrin. "If there's good learning in it, does it make them less stigmatizing in the end?"
Children's media expert Susan Linn, who is the director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, noted the importance of studies like Perrin's in an email to HuffPost, and encouraged caregivers to look beyond even explicit insults about weight to other content like physical character portrayals.
"Is the heroine always impossibly thin? Are the villains fat? Are characters who do not meet societal norms for beauty portrayed as stupid or undesirable?" Linn wrote. "What characters look like, and how they are treated, can have a powerful influence on how children see themselves and others."
Of course, in the real world, weight stigma is very real, and its effects on children can be devastating, according to Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
"When children are stigmatized, teased, or bullied about their weight, they are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, and even suicidal thoughts," Puhl wrote in an email to HuffPost. "They are also more likely to avoid school (to escape teasing), report that their grades are harmed and experience more social isolation. In addition, children who are teased or bullied about their weight are more likely to turn to unhealthy and disordered eating behaviors and extreme weight control practices, as well as avoidance of physical activity, which can ultimately reinforce weight gain."
In her own studies, Puhl has found that both parents and students think weight-based bullying is the most common form of school bullying.
"It's likely that part of the reason that weight stigma has become so socially acceptable in our culture is because of the way that overweight individuals are portrayed in the media -- which is frequently in a stigmatizing, stereotypical manner," concluded Puhl. "When we consider how much media our culture consumes, it's not surprising that we have so much weight stigma."
Also on HuffPost:
Eat Sugar To Lose Weight
"When you're hungry, it usually means your energy is down," reasons this ad from sugar manufacturers that was in circulation in the early 1970s. "By eating something with sugar in it, you can get your energy up fast." They advertised sugar as only 18 calories per teaspoon and "all energy." Of course, they neglected to mention that immediately after creating a surge of energy, unfettered sugar consumption leads to a blood sugar crash that triggers appetite and brings on fatigue.
Curb Appetite With Cigarettes
We don't need to review the damaging effects of cigarettes, do we? Smoking is associated with heart disease, stroke, many different cancers, and emphysema and other respiratory diseases -- just to name a few. In fact, smoking remains the <a href="http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/health-effects/smoking.html" target="_hplink">number one preventable cause of death</a> in the United States, killing 393,000 Americans each year. This 1929 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes reveals how tobacco products were marketed to women primarily as a weight loss aid.
Change Your Natural Body To Fit Beauty Ideals
A good reminder that unrealistic body ideals skew in both directions, this was one in a series of advertisements for slender young women who wanted the voluptuous figure in fashion at the time. Nothing wrong with a "naturally skinny figure" -- or a naturally any-kind-of figure, for that matter.
Swallow A Tape Worm
Ingesting a parasite on purpose, to stay thin? No thanks. While there is some skepticism that pills like these <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/19/health/he-esoterica19" target="_hplink">actually contained living tape worms</a>, the notion that a person could lose weight from having a parasite is not totally logical. As Los Angeles <em>Times</em> health writer Elena Conis explained, "Some tapeworm species can bring on not just weight loss, but also malnutrition, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia and the formation of fluid-filled cysts that can damage organs, block circulation and cause seizures."
Vegetables Are For Squares
By feeding into the notion that vegetables are tasteless and undesirable, this "dieting candy" company got it all wrong. The vibrant colors, textures and flavors of vegetables are palatable and make you feel good. Flavored with chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter and other candy flavors, the appetite suppressant candies were first made with a local anesthetic, benzocaine, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/13/style/a-controversy-over-widely-sold-diet-pills.html?pagewanted=2" target="_hplink">then with the stimulent, phenylpropanolamine</a>. But clearly, a carrot is the offensive option.
Taking A Pill Is The Solution
Industrious companies have been trying to sell the idea of a quick fix for weight loss for a long time, as this ad proves. With vague, "fine vegetable" ingredients, the pill company claims that their supplements "redistribute fat" as you sleep. Now we know there are no short cuts: an active life style and careful eating are the only way to achieve a healthy weight.
Wash Away Your Fat With Soap
Has there ever been a more clearly stated subtext than appears in this ad? Fat is dirty, the ad implies, and all one must do is simply wash it away.
Strength Training Changes Bust Size
While strength training with bands is an effective and efficient workout that's <a href="http://www.aol.com/video/how-to-do-basic-squats-with-resistance-bands/257356104/" target="_hplink">back in vogue</a>, the resistance exercises can only help tone muscles and improve alignment and strength -- they can't change cup size. Short of surgical intervention or overall weight gain, nothing can.
Replacing meals with processed shakes and bars might help you reduce calories, but that doesn't mean you're getting complete nutrition. Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods is a better bet than depriving yourself of meals in favor of sugary shakes.
Feed Your Infant Sugary Soda
According to this ad, it's never too early to start plying your infant with soda. Why? Because it's "pure and wholesome." This 1956 ad for Seven-Up boasts that the drink comes with an ingredient list on the label, which wasn't required at the time. And while that's commendable, the ingredient list surely revealed how sugary the beverage truly is. We now know that sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks are one of the biggest scourges in the fight against childhood obesity. While much of the current connection between obesity rates and sugar-sweetened beverages are related to growing portion sizes and increased availability, there is no benefit to serving sodas to small children. <blockquote><strong>CORRECTION</strong>: <em>An earlier version of this article displayed an advertisement that was inspired by child-centric soft drink ads of the time, but was actually a well-crafted fake. We regret the error.</em></blockquote>