Being a teen can be a challenging time for many, and for teens who are overweight or obese, the challenges can be even greater. A recent study shows that teens who are teased about their weight are more likely to become obese adults.
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Researchers asked nearly 2,000 school-aged children about whether they had been teased by other children, or family members, about their weight.
When they followed up with these children 15 years later, they found that those who answered yes were more likely to be obese adults, struggle with body image and to have developed unhealthy eating behaviors.
Address weight-based teasing early
The results strongly suggest that problems with weight-based teasing need to be addressed early on, says psychologist Leslie Heinberg, PhD.
Dr. Heinberg, who is Section Head for Psychology in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of Behavioral Services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, did not take part in the study.
“One of the primary ways people cope with this bad experience is by eating. They fall back into comfort eating; they fall into disordered eating behaviors,” Dr. Heinberg says. “This study shows that some of the coping and dieting behaviors they use in response can be really unhealthy.”
One of the most interesting findings was that girls who were teased about their weight by family members, rather than peers, had the most problems as adults dealing with weight control and emotional distress, Dr. Heinberg says.
“Peers or family members might tease or give somebody a hard time about their weight. They may not do it with malicious intent – maybe they think it will motivate the family member to lose weight or motivate them to eat in a healthy manner. However, it’s actually more likely to derail them,” Dr. Heinberg says.
No teasing at home
Home needs to be a place where children feel safe from teasing, Dr. Heinberg says.
“The first goal is to make home a healthy and safe environment in which teens aren’t feeling victimized about their weight and a safe spot where they don’t have those negative experiences,” she says.
For parents who are concerned about their teen’s weight, Dr. Heinberg said it’s best to bring in a professional. She recommends having a conversation with the child’s pediatrician about what a healthy weight is for their child and developing appropriate strategies for addressing it.
Complete results of the study can be found in the journal Preventive Medicine.