Calling your child fatso or chubby does nothing to motivate weight loss says study

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Weight stigma is associated with "low self-esteem, social isolation, truancy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours."
Weight stigma is associated with "low self-esteem, social isolation, truancy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours."

If you think teasing your child about their weight is going to push them into adopting healthier eating habits, think again. 

If anything, teasing your child about being overweight may actually be contributing to the problem reports NPR, referring to a recent study by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU). 

The researchers who conducted the 15-year long study have coined the terms "weight-based teasing" and "weight stigma" to emphasise just how harmful this kind of teasing can be for tweens and teens, pointing out that "weight-based teasing (WBT) is consistently one of the most common reasons cited for bullying among youth."

Weight stigma, the study notes, is also associated with "low self-esteem, social isolation, truancy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours."


Also see: Obesity is the number one lifestyle disease: Here’s what you can do to protect your family

What's been most helpful for you in teaching your children about nutrition and health? Tell us, and we could publish your email. Anonymous contributions are welcome.


Fat shaming and weight gain go hand in hand

More than 100 girls and boys of an average age of around 12 participated in the USU study, some (53%) overweight and others, children of overweight parents. 

The study found that the more a child was teased about their weight, the more weight was gained, reporting as much as "91% greater gain in fat mass per year compared with youth with no WBT." 

In addition to the more visible effects, researchers say that fat shaming also contributes to increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn increases appetite and hinders self-control. 

No teasing, no problem? Not exactly

Sadly, the jury is still out on whether reducing teasing leads to a reduction in weight, but if this UK study of more than 5000 11-12 year-olds is anything to go by, inaction on the part of parents in the hopes that a child will naturally lose their "puppy fat" is a big no-no. 

According to the study authors, "children who are obese when they enter secondary school will very likely leave it obese." 

In 2016, the World Obesity Federation predicted that by 2025 "3.91 million South African school children will be overweight or obese."

The most recent statistics show that the prevalence of obesity among children in SA stands at 13%, and is more pronounced among girls under 9-years-old (30%). 


Also see: WATCH: A new exercise guideline says we should get kids moving at age 3

Dangling the right kind of carrot

Talks around addressing and combating the issue often involve experts suggesting the obvious: adopting a healthier lifestyle, however, according to nutritionist Elisa Zied, hyping up the personal pay off of leading a healthy lifestyle is more effective for children because "the health messages get lost.” 

“Try to teach your kids what’s in it for them,” Zied says via Health.com, “Are they going to run faster, throw the ball farther... Teach it in terms that relate to them." 

And her number one tip? 

“You have to practice what you preach. If parents don’t have healthful habits, you can’t really expect kids to have those either.”

Chat back:

What's been most helpful for you in teaching your children about nutrition and health? Tell us, and we could publish your email. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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