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An Echo Press Editorial: Weight teasing is no laughing matter

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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Have you ever made a comment to a young person that they were “getting pudgy” or “putting on a few pounds” or “eating too many Twinkies?”

You may say the words jokingly but they can lead to serious problems for the young person who is hearing those words.

Recent research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has shown that young people across ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups experience negative health effects from weight stigma, defined as discrimination or teasing regarding their weight.

Lead researcher Laura Hooper, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, used data from Project EAT to survey the behaviors of a diverse group of young people first at 14 years old and again eight years later.

Here’s what the study found:

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  • During adolescence, weight teasing is associated with longer screen time, shorter sleep duration and higher weight status.
  • Eight years later, during young adulthood, weight teasing is associated with shorter sleep duration, lower breakfast frequency, higher fast-food intake, higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake and higher weight status.
  • Weight teasing in adolescence predicted higher weight status eight years later.
  • Weight teasing was connected to negative health behaviors and weight status across ethnic/racial and adolescent socioeconomic status subgroups.
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) youth and those from low socioeconomic households were disproportionately affected by both weight teasing and high weight status.

“Our research found that weight teasing was a risk factor for high weight status in a large sample of ethnically/racially and socioeconomically diverse adolescents during their transition to young adulthood,” said Hooper. “We also found that BIPOC youth and those from low socioeconomic households were disproportionately affected by both weight teasing and high weight status.”
Hooper said the findings suggest that healthcare providers, researchers and youth-serving organizations should view weight stigma as a distinct obstacle to their efforts to promote weight-related health in diverse populations of young people.

The findings from this study add to growing evidence that weight-based mistreatment poses a threat to health and that young people across ethnic/racial and socioeconomic status subgroups are vulnerable to the negative effects of weight teasing, according to the Minnesota School of Public Health.

The results, the school said, suggest a need for increased attention to existing recommendations to reduce weight stigma and support young people from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. This includes training for healthcare providers to better equip them to address the harms of weight teasing and foster more compassionate care to promote health-supporting behaviors in young people

So the next time you think about poking fun at a teenager’s weight, think twice and swallow the insult. Cruel words have consequences.

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