Study Finds That Young Girls Who Are Called “Fat” Are More Likely to Be Depressed as Young Adults

mustilloSarah A. Mustillo is an associate professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who studies obesity in children and adolescence. Her recent research has found that young girls who are called “fat” at age 11 or 12, are more likely to develop depressive symptoms in their late teenage years and early 20s, than obese teens who were not ridiculed as fat. A similar, but smaller correlation, was found for girls who were called “fat” when they were 13 or 14 years old.

The study, published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, followed the physical and mental health of nearly 2,400 girls for 10 years beginning when they were as young as age 9.

“The effects were small,” Dr. Mustillo says, “but given the increased risk of depression among women, identifying the impact of factors that can be modified is valuable. This is a reminder that stigma-laden labels are powerful and can influence individual well-being for the long term.”

Dr. Mustillo’s research found that negative self-perception and depression were more likely among young women who had been called “fat,” even if, in the ensuing years, they had returned to a more healthy weight.

Dr. Mustillo has been on the faculty at Purdue since 2007. She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University.

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