Overweight Asian-Americans Are Seen as More ‘American,’ Study Finds


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A new study finds a link between obesity and perceptions of American identity.

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Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau, via Reuters

Obesity: It’s as American as a double serving of apple pie.

That may be an exaggeration, but the reality is that the United States is exceptionally overweight. And, according to a new study, that may affect perceptions of who is and is not American.

The authors of the study — published last week in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science — found that heavier Asian-Americans are more likely to be perceived as “American” than those of a normal weight. The researchers also found that overweight Asian-American men were less likely than those of a normal weight to be viewed as being in the country illegally.

“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,” said Sapna Cheryan, an author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, where the research was conducted.

But it isn’t simply that heavier people are seen as more American: The authors did not find the same effect for whites, blacks or Latinos. Instead, they suggest, assumptions about where Asian-Americans come from seem to play a role.

“Asian-Americans but not white, black, or Latino Americans are associated with foreign countries that are not seen as stereotypically overweight, which enables greater weight to signal an American identity,” they write.

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