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‘Fat Shaming’ Backfires

May. 9, 2014|624 views


Have you ever experienced unkind, cutting words about your appearance from friends or family? Have you ever witnessed a friend or family member telling a young girl she’s “too fat” in an effort to shame her into losing weight? It’s a cruel practice that can hurt a girl’s feelings. But some have adopted the practice as a strategy to combat the obesity epidemic. It’s a “nip it in the bud” philosophy, designed to force girls to eat less. Problem is, it doesn’t work. What’s worse, new research shows that it’s not only NOT helpful, it’s actually counter-productive. Girls who are “fat shamed” in this way are significantly more likely to become obese—not less. 

One could argue that someone who calls a female family member “too fat” has the girl’s ultimate best interest in mind. Perhaps they believe that by bringing a perceived problem to light, they’ll inspire her to change her eating behavior. Maybe so, but unfortunately, it’s more likely to work in the wrong direction, according to new research discussed recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics. UCLA scientists found that 10-year-old girls who were told they were “too fat” by a family member or family friend were more likely to  be obese a decade later. Not less. Even more alarming, some of the girls who recalled being told they were “too fat” at 10 were normal weight at the time. But, within a decade they had become obese. “Weight labeling” does not work as a deterrent to becoming overweight or obese.

A better strategy, say researchers, is to emphasize the healthful aspects of a good diet, and the importance of regular exercise. Remember: Sticks and stones may break your bones—but words can really hurt you.

Hunger, J. M., &Tomiyama, A. J., (in press). Weight labeling and obesity: A 10-year longitudinal study of girls aged 10-19. JAMA Pediatrics.

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