Labeling Girls as “Fat” Can Affect Them a Decade Later, Study Finds

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A new study conducted by UCLA psychologists  showed that girls who are told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they are too fat at age 10 are more likely to be obese at age 19. The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.

Overall, the girls labeled as fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later. The findings appear in the June 2014 print issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study’s senior author. “Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.”

“That means it’s not just that heavier girls are called too fat and are still heavy years later; being labeled as too fat is creating an additional likelihood of being obese.”

“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 co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

Simply being called fat may lead to behaviors that later result in obesity. “When people feel bad, they tend to eat more, not decide to diet or take a jog,” said Tomiyama. “Making people feel bad about their weight could increase their levels of the hormone cortisol, which generally leads to weight gain.”

via Puget Sound

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