Stop Calling Young Girls ‘Fat’

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A new study by UCLA researchers for JAMA Pediatrics revealed that young girls who were called “fat” as children were more likely to become obese as adults. Researchers concluded that 10-year-old girls who had been told they were “too fat” were more likely to find themselves in the obese range of the body mass index by age 19.

1,188 of approximately 2,300 girls surveyed answered “yes” when asked if they had ever been told they were “too fat.” Girls who had been told they were “fat” by a friend, peer, or non-family member were 1.4 times more likely to be obese — while a girl who was told the same by a family member was 1.62 more likely.

“The study was conducted as a response to those who believe shaming people into losing weight is an effective way to deal with the obesity epidemic,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Senior author A. Janet Tomiyama told the publication’s Science Now blog that, “Making people feel bad about their weight can backfire. It can be demoralizing. And we know that when people feel bad, they often reach out to food for comfort.”

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Think Progress notes that the UCLA study is not the only proof that fat-shaming is an ineffective weight loss method that can result in an opposite effect for adults, too. They cite a Florida State University College of Medicine study in which Americans who were overweight in 2006 were “two and a half times more likely to end up obese four years later than those were hadn’t been fat-shamed.”

Researchers claim media reports of the obesity epidemic is partially to blame, particularly coverage that puts a focus on American children, who are constantly warned from following the path of their elders —two out of three adults find themselves at an unhealthy weight. Tomiyama says she hopes the new research results will encourage people to change their approach when advising the next generation. She says to talk to children about eating healthier and exercising rather than drilling body-conscious stigmas into their brains at such a young age.

Moral of the story: Stop calling kids fat. It’s not good for anyone — and may have long term effects on their physical and mental health. And, well, it’s just messed up.