Study claims positive plus-size clothing messages may have a downside
Retailers have been praised for featuring plus-size models and offering more plus-size apparel. A university study, however, contends such efforts may be undermining efforts to reduce obesity.
A University of East Anglia study said that, while attempts to reduce stigmatization of larger body sizes — including the availability of plus-size ranges — helps promote body positivity, an unintentional negative consequence may be that fewer people are recognizing the health risks of being overweight.
An analysis of almost 24,000 people in the U.K. who are overweight or obese revealed that the number of overweight individuals who are misperceiving their weight has increased over time, from 48.4 percent to 57.9 percent in men and from 24.5 percent to 30.6 percent in women between 1997 and 2015.
Overall, those underestimating their weight are 85 percent less likely to try to lose weight compared with people who accurately identified their weight status.
“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalization of being overweight and obese,” said Dr. Raya Muttarak from the University of East Anglia, in a statement.
In the U.S., nearly 75 percent of men and more than 60 percent of women are obese or overweight, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. According to Plunkett Research, 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or larger.
Spurred on by bloggers, plus-size models have become more common on runways and in ads, and retailers such as Norstrom and Target are using plus-size mannequins in their stores. Despite some backlash, the moves have been hailed publicly for being more inclusive. Stores have likewise expanded plus-size ranges.
Driven by apparel, the plus-size market in the U.S. is projected to grow to just under $26 billion by 2020 from $21.5 billion in 2015, a 4.1 percent annual growth rate, according to Marketdata.
John LaRosa, Marketdata’s research director, said in a statement, “We don’t see American obesity rates declining any time soon. As long as that’s the case, there should be increased demand from both young and middle-aged large persons for fashionable clothes and a wide variety of services to meet their needs.”
- ‘Normalization of Plus Size and the Danger of Unseen Overweight and Obesity in England’, Raya Muttarak, is published in Obesity, volume 26, number 7, July 2018. – University of East Anglia
- Why plus-size stores edging into brick-and-mortar matters – USA Today
- $21.5 Billion “Plus Size” Market Comes of Age – Marketdata Enterprises
- Startups See Lucrative Niche in Plus-Size Clothing – The Wall Street Journal
- Better Late Than Never? The Fashion Industry Is Finally Embracing The Plus-Size Woman – Forbes
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers be concerned that using plus-size models or selling plus-size clothing may be normalizing obesity in an unhealthy way? Should stores be promoting healthy, active lifestyles to counter rising health risks?