Calling girls ‘fat’ makes obesity more likely later
You know that nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? The opposite may in fact be true, according to a new study from UCLA psychologists. These researchers found that when 10-year-old girls are called fat, they are more likely to become obese later in life.
The study, published in late April in the online edition of JAMA Pediatrics, found that overall, girls labeled as fat were nearly twice as likely to be obese by the age of 19 than other girls. Researchers also found that the more people who told a young girl she was fat, the greater the likelihood she would be obese nearly a decade later.
Study participants included more than 2,000 African-American and Caucasian girls who live in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Nearly 60 percent of these girls had been told they were too fat at 10 years old. Each participant had her height and weight measured at the start of the study and again nine years later.
“Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained,” said senior study author A. Janet Tomiyama, in a statement.
“Being labeled as too fat may lead people to worry about personally experiencing the stigma and discrimination faced by overweight individuals, and recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating,” said study co-author Jeffrey Hunger.
Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at the UCLA College of Letters and Science in Los Angeles, recommended focusing on healthy eating and fitness rather than obsessing about weight and strongly opposes stigmatizing overweight people.
“When people feel bad, they tend to eat more, not decide to diet or take a job,” said Tomimaya. “Making people feel bad about their weight could increase their levels of the hormone cortisol, which generally leads to weight gain,” she added.
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