Alexandra Brewis, a biological anthropologist at Arizona State University, and colleagues say slim bodies have been idealized and fat ones stigmatized for several decades in the United States but that has not been true of the rest of the world.
"Previously, a wide range of ethnographic studies have shown that many human societies preferred larger, plumper bodies," Brewis says in a statement. "Plump bodies represented success, generosity, fertility, wealth and beauty."
However, that is changing. The researchers surveyed people in Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, the United States and Britain. The researchers also questioned people American Samoa, Puerto Rico and Tanzania -- cultures that have traditionally been thought of as fat-positive.
The most fat-negative cultures were in Mexico, Paraguay and American Samoa, the researchers say.
The attitude change in American Samoa occurred with remarkable speed, Brewis says.
"When I was doing research in the Samoas in the 1990s, we found people starting to take on thinner body ideals, but they didn't yet have discrediting ideas about large bodies," Brewis says in a statement. "But that appears to be changing very quickly."
The findings were reported in the journal Current Anthropology.