A new study linked "weight‐based teasing" with changes in children's body mass index

By Helen Murphy
May 31, 2019 03:15 PM
Credit: Getty

Making fun of children for their weight may only make them gain more, a new study finds.

The study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Pediatric Obesity, found a link between “weight-based teasing” and changes in children’s body mass index.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health studied 110 children and young adults who were either overweight or at risk for being overweight. The average age of the participants was about 12. (To be “at risk” for being overweight, kids had to have two parents who were overweight or obese.)

In their first visit, the kids shared their perception of how often they were bullied or teased for their weight. Researchers then followed up with the children annually over an average of eight and a half years — some for as long as 15 years.

Over the years, the study found that children who reported large amounts of weight-based teasing experienced a 33% greater gain in BMI and a 91% greater gain in fat mass than their peers who did not report any teasing.

Because the study was observational, it cannot directly prove a cause and effect — but the researchers concluded that teasing kids about weight was “associated” with weight and fat gain.

“Among youths with, and at risk for, overweight and obesity, weight‐based teasing was associated with greater weight and fat gain,” the study concluded.

“The authors theorize that weight-associated stigma may have made youths more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as binge eating and avoiding exercise,” the NIH said in a press release. “Another possible explanation is that the stress of being teased could stimulate the release of the hormone cortisol, which may lead to weight gain.”