"Anti-fat prejudice is associated with social isolation, depression, psychiatric symptoms, low self-esteem and poor body image," said one of the researchers, Ted Ruffman from Otago University in New Zealand.

The team showed 70 infants and toddlers pairs of photos of people - one picture of an obese and the other of a normal weight person. The faces in the photographs were covered to put the focus on the body type. At the same time they used questionnaires to gauge the mother's attitude to obesity.

"We found younger infants, around 11 months of age, preferred to look at obese figures, whereas the older toddler group, around 32 months old, preferred to look at average-sized figures," Ruffman noted.

The more the mother had expressed anti-fat attitudes in a questionnaire, the more the older toddlers would look away from the obese figure towards the normal weight one, the findings showed.

"Some argue this anti-fat prejudice is innate but our results indicate it is socially learned. What is surprising is that children are picking up on these things so early," Ruffman explained.

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

 

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