Not The Onion: Internet Memes Are Making Teenagers Fat 

Adding to unfit parents, "sexy at any size" fat-acceptance movements and the abundance of hormone-laden fast food in every corner of the world, there's a new culprit in town for teenage obesity; internet memes

According to five UK professors, memes which glorify fatness or make self-deprecating jokes about unhealthy eating habits can program impressionable young teens with the notion that it's ok to just give up when it comes to their health. 

For example: 

The authors suggest that fat-centric memes are dangerous becuase memes in general invoke a sense of happiness:

"It is worrying that Internet meme content - which, by definition, has come to represent the Internet-fuelled propagation of items such as videos, jokes, rumours and websites (Shifman 2014) – produces a predominate sense of happiness regardless of the underlying tone or image used (see the appendix for examples of health-related Internet memes). If this is the broader case then we run the risk of normalising and accepting ridiculing and stereotyping of “non-normative”, “fat”, “unhealthy”, “irresponsible”, “at fault” individuals because of cultural ignorance."

In other words, because most people get a kick out of memes, the ones which suggest that it's ok to be fat run the risk of normalizing poor habits. The study specifically cites two dangerous memes: 

A picture of an overweight child with the caption "Free food? Count me in!" was sent along with the letter as an example of a meme the researchers found dangerous.

The academics were also concerned by a meme that created a human-like body from pictures of pizzas and hamburgers, with frankfurters used for limbs and a smiley-faced potato for a face.

The body was captioned "me" and placed alongside images of three well-defined bodies for comparison.
"The vast majority of sharers display little, if any, emotion when sharing these memes," the academics commented. -CNN

The authors note that obesity costs the UK's socialized National Health Service £4 billion (USD $5.2 billion) per year - second only to smoking at £5 billion, but ahead of alcohol (£3.5 billion) and physical inactivity (£1.1 billion). 

They also suggest that memes should be filtered in order to prevent wrong-think: 

Internet memes are generally viewed as entertaining but they also represent a body of cultural practice that does not account for the specific needs and rights of teenagers (Livingstone, Carr, & Byrne, 2016). If Internet memes carry political, corporate or other agendas without priorities tailored to the needs of 13-16-year-olds then they have the potential to do harm on a large scale (Wartella et al., 2015). We need to know the types of health information/knowledge that teenagers are exposed to because social media is an increasingly central aspect of their daily lives and social interactions.

And while teenage obesity is undoubtedly caused by multiple factors, including not being fat, just big boned - the kids of today wouldn't do well just two short generations ago. 



Read the paper below: