New Study Says Teasing Kids about Their Weight Leads to Weight Gain

No good comes from being bullied.

New Study Says Teasing Kids about Their Weight Leads to Weight Gain
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Some parents believe that getting teased at school might help their kid develop a thick skin—but if it’s about their weight, the ridicule actually only makes matter worse. According to a new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, teasing children about their weight leads to more weight gain over time.

Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health conducted a study on 110 children who were 11 years old on average and were either clinically overweight or had one or two parents that were considered overweight or obese when the study began. They asked the participants to complete a questionnaire about whether they had been teased about their weight at school, then they conducted annual follow-up visits with the subjects over the next 15 years.

What they found was that more than 60 percent of the kids who were clinically overweight were subjected to teasing. And on top of that, the children who experienced bullying gained an average of 33 percent of body mass and 91 percent of fat each year compared to those who did not experience any body image shaming.

The researchers speculate that the weight gain is caused by cortisol, a hormone that tends to rise in response to stress and makes us crave food that’s high in fat, sugar, and sodium. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronically elevated cortisol levels increase your risk of several serious issues other than just weight gain, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, and trouble sleeping. Also, given how sensitive people are as tweens and teens, it’s possible that being bullied further eroded their self-esteem and led them to engage in unhealthy behavior.

While the study is limited by its relatively small sample size and the fact that it can only show that high levels of teasing are associated with weight gain—not that the former causes the latter—its findings are still significant. After all, there is a current concern surrounding the rise of childhood obesity: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children and teens who are affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, and one out of every five kids between the ages of 6 and 19 are now considered obese.

The study is also important given the nationwide campaign against bullying, which research has shown has serious long-term effects on young people, such as lack of sleep, mental health issues, low self-esteem, and social isolation. It seems clear that American children are in crisis and that many of these serious issues begin with bullying.

Michelle Solo, a licensed master social worker at Ascension Eastwood Behavioral Health in Michigan, tells U.S. News that she’s not surprised by the findings of the study. She warns that teasing your children about their weight at home can also have negative consequences. “If they’re already hearing things at school about their weight, and then they hear them at home, it leaves them thinking, ‘Wow, I’m not good enough here either?'” she says.

Instead of shaming children about their weight, Solo recommends engaging in healthy behavior as a family, such as eating more nutritious meals together or going on walks. “It’s important that parents model healthy behaviors,” Solo says.

And for more on the obesity epidemic, check out New CDC Report Reveals What the Average American Now Weighs.

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