Girls who are told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they are too fat at age 10 are more likely to be obese at age 19, a new study by UCLA psychologists shows.
The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.
Overall, the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later. The findings appear in the June 2014 print issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics and are published online April 28.
“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study’s senior author. “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.”
Co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, said that simply being called fat may lead to behaviors that later result in obesity.
“Being labeled as too fat may lead people to worry about personally experiencing the stigma and discrimination faced by overweight individuals, and recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating,” he said.
The data used in the study came from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
No connection between dieting and improvements in health
In a separate study published last December, Tomiyama, former UCLA psychology faculty member Traci Mann (now at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis) and UCLA graduate student Britt Ahlstrom analyzed 21 long-term studies on weight loss and health and found no clear relationship between weight loss and health improvements related to hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and blood glucose.
“We found no connection whatsoever between the amount of weight loss — whether small or large — and any of these health outcomes,” said Tomiyama of the study, which appeared in the health section of the journal, Social and Personality Psychology Compass.
“Everyone assumes that the more weight you lose, the healthier you are, but the lowest rates of mortality are actually in people who are overweight,” she said. “