I’d bet there’s one thing girls are called more than anything else: Fat. Some hear it from their classmates, others from their friends, still others from their family. Eventually many hear it from themselves. In a UCLA study, more than 2,000 girls were surveyed and 58 percent of them had been told they were too fat by the age of 10.
Soak that in for a moment. More than half of 10 year-old-girls have heard the words “you’re fat.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. The study measured the heights and weights at the beginning of the study, and again nine years later. Those who had been told they were fat were 1.66 times more likely to be obese when they were 19.
What’s worse, as the number of times the girls were told they were fat increased, so did their chances of becoming obese as they aged.
“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, the study senior author and assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science.
“We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this. Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.”
Whether or not the girls were overweight at the beginning of the study appears to the researchers to have little effect on the results.
“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,” Tomiyama said.
It’s easy to blame bullies for the problems associated with calling girls fat, but they aren’t the only cause. Some researchers feel the many reports about the childhood obesity problem in the media could be creating trouble as well.
As people hear more reports about obesity, many feel the need to something about it. In some cases, this can lead to fat-shaming which is more harmful than helpful.
“When people feel bad, they tend to eat more, not decide to go out and take a jog,” Tomiyama said. “Making people feel bad about their weight could increase their levels of the hormone cortisol, which generally leads to weight gain.”
Bottom line: don’t call kids (or anyone) fat. It’s mean, and it only leads to more mental and physical health problems down the road.