Kids and adolescents who were teased about their weight gained more weight over time, according to a new longitudinal study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.
The study, "Weight-based teasing is associated with gain in BMI and fat mass among children and adolescents at-risk for obesity: A longitudinal study," was published May 30 by researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in collaboration with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health (NICHD).
Often, children who have overweight and obesity report being teased about their weight, yet little is known as to whether there is an association between weight-based teasing and changes in their body composition. Therefore, the researchers sought to assess the associations between weight-based teasing and changes in body mass index (BMI) and fat mass, explained Dr. Natasha Schvey, the study's first author and assistant professor in USU's Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology.
The team of researchers, led by Dr. Jack Yanovski of NICHD, also included Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, professor in USU's Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology. The scientists enrolled participants in the study between July 1996 and July 2009, and invited them back for annual follow-up visits for up to 15 years. They enrolled a total of 110 youths (55% female) who either had overweight or obesity, or were considered at-risk for obesity because they had two parents with overweight/obesity. The average age upon enrollment was about 12 years old, and participants were followed over the course of about 8.5 years on average.
Upon enrollment in the study, participants were given a questionnaire that asked them to report how often they were teased about their weight (ranging from 1 = never to 5 = very often). The researchers also measured their body fat mass, as well as height and weight, which was used to calculate their BMI. These assessments were completed at baseline, and at each yearly follow-up visit.
Ultimately, the researchers found that weight-based teasing was significantly associated with BMI and fat mass throughout the follow-up period. In fact, those who reported more frequent weight-based teasing gained 33 percent more weight and 91 percent more fat mass per year compared to those who reported no weight-based teasing, even after adjusting for important variables, such as baseline BMI and fat mass, Schvey explained.
Though the exact cause for this association is unknown, the researchers believe there might be psychological and physiological factors that could account for these findings. For example, a child who is teased for his or her weight might be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and, therefore, might be more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as binge eating, to cope.
What's important about these findings is that they suggest that weight-based teasing places kids at risk for excess weight and fat gain over the course of their development. It's important to educate the public that not only does teasing not motivate healthy behaviors, but that it actually seems to do just the opposite. Based on these findings, a possible next step would be to develop clinical pediatric interventions that could help reduce the harmful effects of weight-based teasing,"
Dr. Natasha Schvey
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU)
Schvey, N.A, et al. (2019) Weight-based teasing is associated with gain in BMI and fat mass among children and adolescents at-risk for obesity: A longitudinal study. Pediatric Obesity. doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12538