New research from the University of California Los Angeles suggests that if a girl is called "fat" by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher at age 10, they are more likely to be obese in their late teens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans are obese. This latest study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, suggests that labeling a person as "too fat" from a young age may lead to behaviors that encourage obesity later in life.
To reach their findings, the UCLA research team assessed 1,213 black girls and 1,166 white girls who lived in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, DC, Of these girls, around 58% had been told they were fat aged 10 years old.
All girls were followed for 9 years, and had their height and weight measured prior to the study and again once follow-up had ceased.
The team found that girls who were labeled as fat at age 10 were 1.66 times more likely to be obese by the age of 19, compared with girls who were not labeled as being overweight.
New research suggests that being called fat at the age of 10, regardless of weight, may increase a girl's risk of obesity almost 10 years later.
In addition, the researchers found that the greater the number of people who told a girl she was fat, the more likely she was to become obese almost a decade later.
Senior study author A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at the UCLA College of Letters and Science, says these findings came as a shock, particularly since the results remained even after accounting for other influential factors, such as income, race and at what age the girls reached puberty.
"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," she adds.
According to study co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara, these findings suggest that simply being called fat can lead to behaviors that result 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."
Overweight individuals 'should not be stigmatized'
Tomiyama and colleagues have conducted a number of studies looking at the effects of weight loss. In a 2007 study, the team suggested that dieting does not work. They found that although individuals can initially lose 5-10% of their weight through dieting, many of these people regain all of this weight and more.
Based on these past studies and this latest research, Tomiyama says that it is not healthy to obsess about weight and people who are overweight should not be stigmatized for it.
"When people feel bad, they tend to eat more, not decide to diet or take a jog. Making people feel bad about their weight could increase their levels of the hormone cortisol, which generally leads to weight gain."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that a parent's feeding and activity practices toward their infant may increase the risk of their child becoming obese later in life.