Fat meme MEMEotive

Memes may encourage adolescents to be fat and lazy, warn researchers

Loughborough academics have presented a report to MPs to warn that social media memes are encouraging obesity, apathy and lethargy in children.


Dr Ash Casey, Dr Martin Sykora, Dr Suzanne Elayan, Professor Tom Jackson and Professor Lorraine Cale carried out a study which looked at the negative messages young people were exposed to on a daily basis through images shared on sites such as Instagram and Twitter.

The researchers presented a report to the parliamentary Science and Technology select committee spelling out the “anti-health” themes of hugely popular shared memes*, which they said risked “normalising potential damaging behaviour”.

Examples included a picture of a fat squirrel with the text ‘me thinking about my next meal after I just ate’ underneath.

“It’s vice validation,” said project lead Dr Casey. “When you look at these things you find them funny and rationalise them, but the messages they give are harmful and normalise negative health behaviours.

“We had the idea to analyse the impact of memes about a year ago.

“We wanted to look at the what young people were accessing and what messages they were being exposed to.”

The project, MEMEotive - Analysing the Effects of Internet Memes on Young Teenagers’ Health and Health Behaviours – builds on the success of EMOTIVE, funded by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) following the London Riots, to detect and measure emotions on social media (Twitter).

MEMEotive aims to understand which memes become popular and how they influence and motivate the health and health behaviours of young people and teenagers.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 18/140

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via www.globelynx.com

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey and named University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019 and the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2018.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2019, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2019. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.