Study: Teasing Teens about Weight Could Have Lasting Impact

CLEVELAND – Being a teen can be a challenging time for many children 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.

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 develop unhealthy eating behaviors.

Leslie Heinberg, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said the results are a good indication that problems with weight-based teasing need to be addressed early on.

“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,” said Dr. Heinberg. “What this study shows, is that some of the dieting behavior they utilize can be really unhealthy,” said Dr. Heinberg.

Dr. Heinberg said 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.

“Peers or family members, they might tease, or give somebody a hard time about their weight – maybe not with malicious intent – maybe they think, ‘oh, this will be good. It will motivate them to lose weight, it will motivate them to eat in a healthy manner,’ however, it’s actually more likely to derail them,” said Dr. Heinberg.

Dr. Heinberg said home needs to be a place where children feel safe from teasing.

“The first goal is to make home a healthy and safe environment in which teens aren’t feeling victimized about their weight, and giving them at least a safe spot at home where they don’t have those experiences,” she said.

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 Preventive Medicine.