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Being Called Fat Can Lead to Obesity in Girls

Update Date: Apr 28, 2014 09:17 PM EDT

Being called fat increases a girl's risk of becoming obese, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that simply being called "fat" at the age of 10 increases girls' risk of becoming obese by age 19.

Researcher at the University of California - Los Angeles analyzed data from 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Study data revealed that 58 percent of participants had been told they were too fat at age 10, and all had their height and weight measured at the beginning and nine years after the study.

The findings reveal girls who had been called "fat" by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher were 1.66 times more likely than other girls to be obese at 19. The study also revealed as the number of people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did her chance of becoming obese nine years later.

"Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this," senior author A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, said in a news release. "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," Tomiyama added.

Co-researcher Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, believes that being called fat may trigger behaviors that lead to 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 explained.

That latest study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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