Children who are teased or ridiculed about their weight are likely to gain more weight, according to a new study.
About 110 youths who are, or are at‐risk of being, overweight participated in the study which was conducted by Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. The findings suggest that children who face weight-based teasing (WBT) are likely to become overweight or obese as an adult.
"Among youths with, and at-risk for, overweight and obesity, weight-based teasing (WBT) was associated with greater weight and fat gain," concludes the research, published in 'Pediatric Obesity'.
According to the findings, those who faced high levels of teasing for their weight experienced a 33% greater gain in body mass index or BMI and a 91% greater gain in fat mass (an additional 0.65 kg) every year (during the entire period of the study/follow-up period of up to 15 years) as compared to those who did not face weight-based teasing.
"Taken together, these data suggest that WBT may promote greater gains in BMI and fat mass among youths at‐risk for adult obesity and that the experience of WBT in youth might contribute to the likelihood of developing overweight/obesity as an adult," the findings state.
At the time of enrollment for the study, the average age of the participants was 11.8 years, and 53% were overweight or obese.
Children were eligible for the study if they either had a Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile that was greater than or equal to 85 or if they had two parents who were overweight/obese.
They had to complete a questionnaire on whether they were teased about their weight or not.
The participants' height, weight, and body composition were recorded at the time they enrolled for the study and then subsequently during annual follow-ups for the next 15 years.
Data showed weight-based teasing was associated with an increase in BMI and fat mass across the follow-up period.
"In this study of youths with childhood‐onset overweight or obesity or who were at‐risk for adult overweight/obesity, 43% of the total sample and 62% of youths with overweight/obesity reported the presence of at least one instance of weight-based teasing. Furthermore, WBT was associated with BMI and fat mass throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, such that youths who were teased more at baseline started heavier and remained heavier throughout the follow‐up period. Importantly, WBT was also associated with greater rates of both BMI and fat mass gain over time," according to the report.
Contrary to the belief that fat shaming may motivate the youth to change their lifestyle/behavior and become fit, the findings highlight that weight stigma and body shaming can have an adverse impact in later years by increasing the risks of obesity and overweight.
The authors theorize that the reasons behind such weight gain could be attributed to the fact that children who are criticized and harassed about their weight are likely to indulge in binge eating and other unhealthy habits/behavior to cope with the harassment.
"There are several possible mechanisms, both psychological and physiological, that might account for the present findings. For instance, the associations of weight stigma with unhealthy weight control behaviors, binge eating, body dissatisfaction, and avoidance of physical activity are well‐documented, all of which might collectively place an individual at increased risk for excess weight and adiposity gain. Thus, a child who is teased for his/her weight might be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as binge eating, to cope with a subsequent negative effect. Additionally, weight stigma is a source of biochemical stress and may contribute to the elevated secretion of the glucocorticoid stress hormone, cortisol," the authors revealed.
The authors believe that the exploratory study highlights the need for evaluating weight-based teasing among the youth, and particularly those who are at higher risk of adult obesity.
"The experience of WBT may place children and adolescents at increased risk for excess weight and fat gain throughout the developmental period. As adolescence marks a critical period for the study of weight gain, it will be important to further explore the effects of WBT and weight‐related pressures on indices of weight and health throughout development and to identify both risk and protective factors," recommends the study.
"We know that people with overweight and obesity are frequently blamed for their weight status. Therefore, it will be important to focus less on personal responsibility and more on environmental factors that contribute to the global increases observed in obesity, such as the prevalence of unhealthy foods and aggressive food marketing techniques that often target racial and ethnic minorities. It is also critical to understand that weight is not always an accurate proxy for health and that we cannot make determinations about one's health status from their size alone. We need to ensure that our prevention and treatment efforts do not inadvertently stigmatize those we are trying to help. Many individuals report weight stigma from healthcare providers, which may lead to the avoidance of medical care. We need to ensure that our health providers are well-equipped to address weight sensitively with patients," Dr. Natasha A Schvey, Associate Professor of Psychology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and lead author of the study, told MEA Worldwide (MEAWW).
She added, "It is also important that the public is informed about the harmful effects of stigma and the ways in which stigma contributes to poor health. Parents, teachers, and providers should take an active role in addressing and reducing weight stigma facing youth."