The results of a study led by UCLA psychologist A. Janet Tomiyama and colleagues show 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. The data used in the study came from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The study assessed 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Fifty-eight percent of these girls had been told they were too fat at age 10. Each of the subjects had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.
By and large, the researchers found that the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19. Additionally, they 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 appeared 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.”
Tomiyama, who also directs UCLA’s Dieting, Stress and Health (DiSH) laboratory, is currently conducting follow-up studies with the women from Northern California who participated in the study; these women are now in their 30s and many of them have children.