This Is What Happens When You Tell A Young Girl She’s Fat

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Young girls who grow up being told they’re “too fat” have a greater chance of becoming obese.

That’s according to a new long-term study by psychology researchers at UCLA. Researchers weighed girls at age 10 and again at age 19, and found that the odds of being obese as a young woman increased if someone had labeled the participant “too fat” by the time she was 10. They also found a participant’s likelihood of being obese increased as more people told her she was “too fat.”

“There’s no reason to even say the ‘f’ word if you’re trying to improve health,” lead researcher A. Janet Tomiyama told The Huffington Post. “This really adds to a body of research that shows that negatively evaluating someone, especially in the weight domain, can sometimes backfire.”

Researchers measured the weights and heights of 2,379 10-year-old girls from Northern California; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Washington, D.C., and asked them if anyone had ever told them they were too fat (58 percent said yes). The researchers followed up with the participants at age 19 — nine years later — to again record their heights and weights. They found that the women had 1.66 times greater odds of being obese if people (including parents, teachers, siblings and friends) had told them that they were “too fat” while growing up.

Tomiyama statistically removed the effects of childhood weight, income, race and puberty age in order to isolate the impact of “fat” comments. The study was published online Monday for the June 2014 print issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Tomiyama said the findings echo other research she’s done on how people respond to stress by eating more.