Young Girls Being Called ‘Fat’ More Likely to Become Obese

First Posted: Apr 29, 2014 05:49 AM EDT

Don't ever call a girl 'fat' as this may increase her chances of being obese, a new study reveals.

A new study led by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that girls who are told they are too fat either by their parents, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher are more likely to be obese at age 19.

The finding is based on a study conducted on 1,213 African-American girls and 1,16 white girls who were residents of Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington D.C.  Among the participants, 58 percent were told they were too fat when they were 10.  At the start and end of the study, the researchers measured the girl's height and weight. The same measurements were again taken after nine years. The data came from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institute of Health.

The researchers noticed that the girls who were called fat suffered a high risk of being obese at the age of 19 compared to other girls. The likelihood of being obese nine years later was 1.66 times more in these girls.

"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."

The researchers observe that labeling someone too fat means creating a likelihood of that person getting obese. Being labeled as fat triggers unhealthy behavior in young girls that later results in obesity.

"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 Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

A previous study by Tomlyama found no association between weight loss and health improvement related to cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and blood glucose.

"We found no connection whatsoever between the amount of weight loss - whether small or large - and any of these health outcomes," said Tomiyama. "Everyone assumes that the more weight you lose, the healthier you are, but the lowest rates of mortality are actually in people who are overweight. At a body mass index of 30, which is labeled obese, there is no increased risk of mortality. This has now been shown over and over again. The highest rate of mortality is in the underweight people."

The current study was documented in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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