Labelling a girl 'too fat' may actually cause future weight gain, according to new research which has found that girls called 'fat' aged 10 were considerably more likely to be obese aged 19.
The new study, conducted by researchers at the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles, used data taken from 2,300 girls over nine years.
At the beginning of the study, the participating girls were asked if they had ever been called 'too fat' by a family member, friend or teacher. Those who answered yes were classified as 'weight labelled'.
Nine years later, it emerged that the girls who were 'weight labelled' as 10-year-olds by a family member or non-family member were 1.62 times and 1.4 times likelier respectively to be obese at 19-year-olds than their peers who had not been shamed for their weight.
But couldn't the study be mistaking correlation for causation? Is this simply a case of overweight children turning into overweight adults? Not according to Janet Tomiyama, senior author of the study and associate professor of psychology at UCLA.
"Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained," she clarified, speaking to the Los Angeles Times.
"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."
Researches say the study debunks the idea that shaming or pressuring people over their weight is an effective technique to combat the obesity epidemic.
Co-author, the ironically-named Jeffrey Hunger, added that the effects of negative self-image are well known. "Recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating," he explained.
Tomiyama, who studies issues concerned with weight and diet stress, said being labelled so young can have a 'demoralizing' effect. So what should parents do if they are concerned about their child's weight? The answer, according to Tomiyama, is leave 'fat' out of it.
"We don't really need to talk about fat or not fat if we are trying to talk about health," she said. "Just say let's go eat healthier and let's go exercise and not even make weight part of the conversation."
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