Children shun fictional 'fat Alfie'

fat Alfie
Image caption Few children in the study picked 'fat Alfie' to be their friend

Young children reject story characters who are obese, a study suggests.

In experiments with more than 100 UK primary school pupils aged four to seven, investigators found the children voiced negative views about a fictional book character called 'fat Alfie'.

The children said fat Alfie was less likely to be invited to parties and was more likely to be naughty than thinner characters.

Crucially, few said they would choose him to be their friend.

Most said they would befriend a slim Alfie, however.

Overall, they were also more positive about a wheelchair-using Alfie.

Books depicting either a fat or thin girl called Alfina as the central character elicited similarly polarised responses from a second group of 150 reception and year one schoolchildren.

Each storybook covered the same plot - three children and what happened when their cat got stuck in a tree - using colour illustrations and a simple text narrative. The books only differed in the way that the main character was drawn.

The University of Leeds team, who are presenting their work at a European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, say the findings show that young children are aware of the huge societal interest in body size.

Lead researcher Prof Andrew Hill said: "Young kids like this are a social barometer. They are telling us that society is so conscious of body shape that even young children are able to mirror back what we say about obesity.

"We have a real habit of equating fatness with bad and children are reflecting this back to us.

"Parents and teachers should be aware of this."

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