It’s not just adults who are guilty of bad body-shaming behavior.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, looked at 1,164 six- and seven-year-olds in the U.S. and found that kids at a healthy weight didn’t mention overweight kids as their friends, and typically named the larger kids as their least favorite playmates.
“Severe obesity is a clear psychosocial risk for children, even as early as 6 years old,” Amanda W. Harrist, lead author and professor of child development at Oklahoma State University, said in a press release. “Children who are ostracized, as occurred with the severely overweight children in our study, suffer great harm, with feelings of loneliness, depression, and aggression, and these children are more likely to skip school and drop out later.”
Harrist and her fellow researchers found that the healthier kids wouldn’t mention any overweight kids as their friends, and were typically named as their least favorite playmate.
Isolation and depression in early childhood can also cause further weight gain as kids turn to food for comfort and avoid playgrounds, according to Harrist and her team.
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At such a young age, the researchers say the kids need someone to step in and stop the abuse.
“Intervention or prevention efforts should begin early and target peer relationships,” co-author Glade L. Topham, associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Oklahoma State University, says. “Interventions addressing the behavior of peer groups can limit exclusion and teasing, and help students form friendships.”