Being overweight may make you look ‘more American,’ study finds

SEATTLE — A person’s weight makes a significant difference when it comes whether others believe them to be American, particularly for Asian-Americans, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Washington recruited 1,000 college students to participate in a study on how race and weight intersect with perceived national identity.

Measuring weight loss or obesity
A new study finds that Asian-Americans who are overweight are viewed by people as “more American” than those who were normal weight.

Participants were shown stock photos of men and women of varying racial groups (black, white, Asian, and Hispanic), at which point they were prompted to make determinations about a given subject’s nationality and traits.

Some pictures were digitally altered to reflect a given subject weighing more than another.

“In the U.S., there is a strong bias associating American identity with whiteness, and this can have negative consequences for people of color in the U.S.,” said co-author Caitlin Handron as to what prompted her to conduct the study. “We wanted to see whether ideas of nationality are malleable and how body shape factors into these judgments.”

The researchers found that Asians who were heftier were not only more likely to be perceived as being born in America, but to also possibly be a naturalized citizen.

The study did not find a similar correlation for black, white, nor Latino individuals.

Co-author Sepna Cheryan called this finding “an unusual possible protective benefit of being heavier for Asian Americans.”

“We found that there was a paradoxical social benefit for Asian Americans, where extra weight allows them to be seen as more American and less likely to face prejudice directed at those assumed to be foreign,” she elaborated.

Cheryan argues that her findings suggest that stereotypes about what it means to be American are rigid and outdated, often centering around whether one has Caucasian heritage.

Previous research conducted by Cheryan found that many immigrants in the U.S. eat an abundance of junk food to fit in.

If nothing else, this study calls into question the defining characteristics of those we consider to be American.

The researchers’ findings were published last week in the journal Psychological Science.


  1. This is the problem humans have that leads to excessive weight gain. We are adapted by evolution to thrive in a prehistoric world of limited food sources that require substantial daily activity to best ensure a continuing daily adequate supply of food. As a result of limited food sources humans have always experience periodic hunger and varying degrees of food deprivation and periodic severe food deprivation, but we are adapted to survive and thrive even in that type of prehistoric environment. So, throughout our long prehistoric time on earth, humans have balanced the accumulation of extra body fat with our likelihood of facing starvation in the near future. So this study makes sense. Irregular meal intervals would harbinge an increased likelihood of impending famine and should trigger increased fat deposition to prepare for that increased probability.but our larger problem is that with very few exceptions, virtually all humans during our long pre-agrarian period faced fairly frequent episodes of food insuficiency that few people face today because we are highly adapted to avoid hunger when possible.

    So what is the solution? We have to do the opposite of what this study recommends and live more like our pre-agrarian ancestors had to live, with frequent or even daily periods of unsatisfied hunger sufficient to limit our food intake to a point where we consume an average daily amount of food that equals or is less than the amount required to maintain our ideal body weight. That means that, until we develop a safe strategy or a safe and effective appetite suppressant, we have to force ourselves to endure hunger for a substantial portion of each day, just as our prehistoric ancestors were forced to endure because of their environments and the lack of modern agriculture. I do that by limiting my number of hours of food consumption each day to a low enough number to ensure than my food intake balances out with my daily nutritional requirements needed to maintain an ideal body weight that for me right now that involves consuming all of each day’s food within a window of 3 to 6 hours. There must be many other ways to achieve the same goal.

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