Being a kid is tough enough but it's even more difficult if that child happens to be overweight. In a world obsessed with looking Insta-perfect even at grade school age, any child who doesn't fit that norm is often subjected to endless teasing and bullying often leading to long-lasting body image issues and eating disorders.
Now a new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity has found that children who are teased and bullied about their weight could suffer long-term effects as a result of that teasing. The study looked at 110 children and young teens who were either overweight or at risk for becoming overweight. The study followed up with the subjects at anywhere from 1 to 15 years later and found that those who reported being teased about their weight had gained the most.
In the first follow up visit 62% of those involved in the study who were overweight had reported being teased at least once while 21% of those who were deemed at risk of becoming overweight stating they had been teased, NPR reports. "There's this school of thought that says [weight-based] teasing might have a motivating effect on youth," says study author Natasha Schvey, assistant professor of medical and clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University. "This study shows that that's not only not true but that teasing might increase weight gain over time."
Despite whether they were overweight or not when they began the study, those who reported being teased about their weight gained more than those who weren't. The numbers are significant too, with those who were teased about their weight seeing a 33% greater gain in BMI and a 91% greater gain in fat mass per year compared with peers who reported no teasing.
Although Schvey says the study is simply observational, "we can say weight-based teasing was significantly linked with weight gain over time." Rebecca Puhl, deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut told NPR that studies like this are important because it shows how common this sort of teasing is at such a young age. "What [this] is telling us is that we need to do a better job protecting adolescents from weight-based teasing," she says.
Puhl said that we need to address how everyone talks to children that are overweight, not just children but adults and healthcare professionals too, as well as teach kids how to cope when they do face teasing and bullying comments. "Clinicians and pediatricians need to be paying attention to this issue," Puhl says.