Plus-size clothing ranges leading to higher obesity rates in the UK, says study

UK retailers’ decision to offer plus-size clothing is leading people to underestimate the health risks of being overweight or obese, according to a new study by sociologist Raya Muttarak, from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalisation of being overweight and obese”, said Muttarak in a statement on UEA’s website. “While this type of body positive movement helps reduce stigmatisation of larger-sized bodies, it can potentially undermine the recognition of being overweight and its health consequences. The increase in weight misperception in England is alarming and possibly a result of this normalisation”.

Around 63 percent of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, according to a 2017 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Muttarak’s study analyzed data from 23,460 of them. She concluded that the number of people underestimating their weight has grown in recent years, which can pose a burden to public health expenditure: people who downplay their weight are 85 percent less likely to try to lose weight.

The amount of men misperceiving their weight went from 48.4 percent in 1997 to 57.9 percent in 2015. Women tend to be more aware of their body size, but the rate of weight misperception is growing among them as well: 30.6 percent of UK women underestimated their weight in 2015, compared to 24.6 percent in 1997.

Plus-size clothing ranges leading to higher obesity rates in the UK, says study

Euphemisms and ”vanity sizing” can contribute to more obesity

While the causes of obesity are complex and the fashion industry is not the only one to blame for the problem, the study mentions retail practices as contributing factors to the increased levels of weight misperception.

Retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Asos have replaced the term “plus-size” with the more flattering word “curve”. Similarly, some apparel brands have decided to label their clothes with sizes smaller than the actual cut. Earlier this month, H&M told BBC that it would be “taking the steps to change our womenswear measurements to be in line with UK sizing”. For example, the previous measurements of a size 12 would now be the measurements of a size 10.

”Although purchasing clothes with smaller size labels helps promote a positive self-related mental imagery and self-esteem, vanity sizing can potentially lead to the misperception of weight status and consequently undermine action to reduce weight”, reads the study.

Images: UK Plus Size Fashion week 2015 in association with Evans; Marks & Spencer website