A New Zealand study says fat aversions are developed at a very young age

By People Staff
Updated November 25, 2015 11:50 AM
Credit: Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws/Getty

Parents, there’s even more reason to watch what you say in front of your kids – scientists say fat-shaming is behavior that children learn early.

A new study conducted by behavioral scientists in New Zealand shows that toddlers as young as 32 months develop anti-fat perceptions from their mothers, the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology reports.

Researchers at the University of Otago showed photos of both obese and thin people (their faces were blurred out) to children, and the group of infants tended to prefer looking at the bigger bodies. But kids 11 months and older were more attracted to thin bodies.

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The parents of the children in the study completed a questionnaire to determine their perception towards obesity. The toddlers of parents with the more anti-fat attitudes tended to like the thinner bodies.

“We found that preference was strongly related to maternal anti-fat prejudice. It was a high correlation – the more the mother had expressed anti-fat attitudes in the questionnaire, the more the older toddlers would look away from the obese figure towards the normal weight one,” study author Ted Ruffman, a psychology professor at Otago, said in a press release.

“Weight-based prejudice is causing significant social, psychological, and physical harms to those stigmatised,” said co-author Kerry O’Brien, an assistant professor of psychology at Monash University.

“It’s driving body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in underweight populations; and social isolation, avoidance of exercise settings, and depression in very overweight populations,” O’Brien added. “We need to find ways to address this prejudice.”