Girls who are called fat more likely to become obese

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: July 10th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The nursery rhyme “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” might not actually be true, at least in some cases.

Recent research shows that young girls who are called “fat” by their peers, parents, teachers or friends at age 10 seem to suffer lingering effects — regardless of their actual weight. These girls were one-and-a-half times more likely to be obese by the age of 19 than girls who were not called overweight.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles assessed 1,200 black girls and 1,200 white girls from Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington D.C. The researchers followed the girls for nine years, measuring their weight and height both at the beginning and at the conclusion of the study.

At the start of the study, 58 percent of the girls had been called fat. By the end of the study, the girls who had been called fat more often were more likely to become obese. These results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors such as income, race and at what age the girls hit puberty.

The researchers think that being called fat may cause the girls to adopt behaviors that can lead to obesity. The researchers hypothesize that being called fat causes the girls to release a stress hormone called cortisol, which can lead to weight gain.

People who think they are helping by pointing out the health benefits of losing weight may even be giving poor advice. In previous studies, the researchers found no clear evidence that losing weight improves health complications such as hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol.

One thing, however, is clear. Stressing out about weight may cause more problems than it solves.

For worried parents of overweight kids, the best advice may not be to harp on your child to lose weight … but to set a positive example yourself.