UCLA Study Finds That Young Girls Who Are Called “Fat” Are More Likely to Become Obese

A study conducted by psychologists at the University of California at Los Angeles finds that girls who are told that they look fat at a young age are more likely to be obese by the time they reach the age of 19.

The study examined nearly 2,400 girls in California, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. About 58 percent of these girls had been told they looked fat by a family member, teacher, or friend by the time they were 10 years old. Nine years later, the girls who had been told they looked fat at a young age were nearly 1.7 times more likely to be obese than the girls who had not been told they look fat.

Janet+Tomiyama+photo_thmbA. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA and the senior author of the study, stated, “Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained. 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.”

The authors speculate that stress caused by being called fat may actually lead to overeating. “When people feel bad, they tend to eat more,” Tomiyama said. “Making people feel bad about their weight could increase their levels of the hormone cortisol, which generally leads to weight gain.”

Dr. Tomiyama is a graduate of Cornell University. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology from UCLA.

The article, “Weight Labeling and Obesity: A Longitudinal Study of Girls Aged 10 to 19 Years,” was published on the website of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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