Teasing Kids About Weight May Make Them Gain More, Study Finds

Bullying or teasing kids about their weight has been linked to greater weight and fat gain into early adulthood, according to a new study.

The observational study, published by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, followed 110 kids who were either overweight or at-risk of being overweight for a period of up to 15 years, and participants remained in the study for an average of 8.5 years. At their first visit, the kids — who were about 12 at the time — were asked to respond to a questionnaire about whether they were teased for their weight. A majority of the kids reported being teased for their weight.

“So what we were interested in is whether reported weight-based teasing at that baseline visit, whether that was associated with weight gain and fat gain trajectories over time and into early adulthood,” Dr. Natasha Schvey, the study’s lead author, told Patch.

“The most significant finding was that teasing at baseline was associated with a much steeper trajectory of weight and fat gain over time,” Schvey, an assistant professor of psychology at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, said.

After adjusting for variables, the study found that kids who reported high weight-based teasing gained 33 percent more BMI and 91 percent more fat mass every year compared to kids who said they were not teased for their weight.

“The real impact of this study is that we were able to document a really robust link between weight-based teasing in childhood and weight and fat gain over time into early adulthood,” Schvey said.

Half of the respondents in the study were overweight or suffered from obesity while the other half were at risk of becoming overweight or developing obesity.

“Across both groups of those kids, weight-based teasing was still linked with that increased rate of weight and fat gain,” Schvey said.

While the study cannot draw any conclusions about causality, Schvey said there is a strong association between being teased about weight and gaining weight over time. What still needs to be researched is the specific mechanisms that are causing the increased weight gain that the study linked to weight-based teasing.

“Is it increased body dissatisfaction that is then linked with unhealthy weight control behaviors that might predispose somebody to weight gain? Is it incresed biochemical stress resulting from weight-based teasing that then results in this sort of downstream effect on the body?” Schvey said.

The next steps should also include reducing the prevalence and acceptance of weight-based teasing at a policy level, Schvey said.

According to Schvey, kids report weight-based teasing in multiple settings, including at school, at home from their parents and siblings and also from their doctors and health care providers.

“So really ensuring that we have sort of systematic policies that are prohibiting weight-based discrimination and victimization among youth and ensuring that parents and school teachers and principals and health care providers are well aware of both the prevalence of weight-based teasing and also the harmful consequences that it might have on children who are subjected to it,” Schvey said.

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