Scientists at the University of California collected body measurements and body mass index (BMI) data from almost 2 400 girls aged 10.
They also asked the children whether parents, siblings, friends, classmates or teachers had once or repeatedly described them as too fat. When the girls were aged 19, their BMI was again measured.
The result: if a family member described the 10-year-old as being too fat the risk of obesity at 19 was increased by 62 per cent. When the comments came from acquaintances outside the family, the probability rose by at least 40 per cent.
The relationship was independent of the BMI. Even normal-weight girls were more often obese in later life if they had received negative comments about their figures as children.
The researchers concluded that instead of altering behaviour, the stigmatizing makes the girls unable to change their behaviour and control their weight.
For that to happen, teasing isn't even required, merely the seemingly innocuous classification of being "too fat."
Well-being is reduced and mental stress increases. The girls may also develop a fear of discrimination, which they compensate for by eating more food.