Both the scientific community and the general public have come to recognize the increasing prevalence of obesity as a significant public health crisis. To help address this issue, recent research has begun to explore lay theories of obesity—the mental models that structure how non-experts think about the causes and consequences of the condition. In this chapter, we develop an integrative review of the literature on lay theories of obesity, drawing on research in public health, communications, and psychology to illuminate the factors that shape beliefs and attitudes toward the condition, as well as the consequences of specific lay theories for cognition and behavior. At the individual level, we discuss how certain ways of thinking about obesity facilitate obesity treatment and prevention. At the societal level, we discuss how certain ways of thinking about obesity lead people to support (and oppose) specific types of obesity-related policy interventions. We pay special attention to the role of narrative framing and individual demographics in the etiology of lay beliefs and explore how particular psychological mechanisms (e.g., empathy) can affect attributions and attitudes.
Part of the book: Adiposity