Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


September 12th, 2014

A study by UCLA psychologists that was published in the JAMA Journal of Pediatrics says that 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.

“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, in a UCLA press release. “Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.”

The study, according to the UCLA press release, included more than 2,300 young girls in California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., who had their height and weight checked when they age 10 and again at age 19. At the start of the study, 58 percent of the girls had been told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they were too fat. Those girls were 1.66 times more likely to be obese at age 19 than other girls, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers found.

It is no secret that most teenagers are concerned about appearance to a heightened degree (compared to other times in their lives), especially a teenage girl. Being overweight is what they are most concerned about. Teens will respond to their anxiety over appearance in a number of different ways. Some become anorexic, others bulimic and others overeaters. Many of us are familiar with anorexia and bulimia because of the media attention given to these disorders over the years because they have afflicted so many high-profile celebrities, but there have been fewer discussions about overeating; that is until now.

Celebrities like Adele and Melissa McCarthy have changed that. McCarthy was recently on the cover of PEOPLE magazine where she talked about her struggles with weight and feeling accepted. “I’ve never felt like I needed to change,” she says in the article. “I’ve always thought, ‘If you want somebody different, pick somebody else.’ But sure, criticism can sometimes still get to me. Some things are so malicious; they knock the wind out of you.”

Often teens who overeat to the point of obesity are worried that they, too, will never fit in or “make the grade.” What this study has shown is that positive reinforcement is needed. Whether a person is too thin or overweight negative comments hurt, and only make an already anxious teen feel worse. When it comes to weight, what teenagers really need is understanding and support. Reach out to your teen, and remember that there is almost always an underlying emotional issue that affects your child’s eating. The most important piece to take away from this study is that negative comments only make matters work. For the better health of your teen, parents, family and friends need to be supportive.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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