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A weighty issue for political candidates

January 28, 2010 |  3:01 am

If President Obama is worried about his lackluster approval rating, a pair of researchers from the heartland have some surprising advice – put on some weight.

Male political candidates who were obese were viewed more favorably than candidates who had identical demographic, political and policy positions but were of healthy weight, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Obesity.

Candidate1 Candidate2 A psychologist and a political scientist from the University of Missouri-Kansas City created profiles of fake candidates, who ranged from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans. Volunteers were asked to read the candidates' bios and assess whether they were likable, competent, strong leaders, moral, intelligent, lazy, dishonest or unreliable, among other qualities.

Here’s the twist: Half of the volunteers got bios with photos of trim-looking candidates, and the other half received the same bios with photos that had been morphed to make the candidate look obese.

The researchers anticipated that obese candidates would be penalized for their extra weight. After all, obesity bias has been well documented among employers, teachers, healthcare providers and average folks. But to their surprise, the researchers found that a large body size was an asset for men running for office.

The same wasn’t true for the hypothetical female candidates – the obese ones were viewed more negatively than their slim counterparts, the study found.

The researchers said they plan to expand on their findings by examining vote totals from real congressional races and looking for correlations between each candidate’s gender, body mass index and the number of votes they received.

The findings may be of particular interest to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who emphasized his dramatic weight loss when he ran for president last year. If Huckabee is considering another run for the White House in 2012, perhaps he should reincorporate fried foods and sugar into his diet and cut back on the marathons.

— Karen Kaplan

Photos: Subjects were more favorably inclined to the candidate on the right, even though his credentials were identical to those of the candidate on the left. The slim photo is real, and the one on the left was modified with AlterImage morphing software.

Credit: Elizabeth J. Miller/University of Missouri-Kansas City