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That 'Harmless' Teasing About Your Child's Weight Can Make Him Gain More Pounds
  • Have you ever called your child “tabachingching,” “tabachoy,” or straight up told her, “Ang taba-taba mo na?” To you, it might be a harmless remark or a form of affection, but according to a new study, making fun of kids for their weight can lead to increased weight gain into adulthood.

    The study, which was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, also found that the teasing kids and teens experience directly affects their weight gain — the more they are teased, the more weight they put on.

    “There’s this school of thought that says [weight-based] teasing might have a motivating effect on youth,” said one of the study’s authors, Natasha Schvey, an assistant professor of medical and clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University in Maryland, USA. “This study shows that that’s not only not true, but that teasing might increase weight gain over time.”

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    Researchers studied 110 children and young teens, whose average age is 12 years, who were either overweight or had two parents who were overweight. Various studies show that having parents who are overweight puts children at risk of obesity later in life.

    In their first visit, the kids were asked to share whether they had been made fun of based on their size. Sixty-two percent of the overweight children said they had been teased about their weight at least once, while 21% of the at-risk children said they had been teased.

    After 8.5 to up to 15 years, researchers checked-in with the participants to see how they changed. Those who reported being teased often for their weight — whether they were overweight at the start of the study or not — gained 33% more body mass and 91% more fat per year compared to participants who weren’t teased.

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    The link between obesity and teasing

    Your casual comments can have more impact than you realize. Similar research in 2016 found that women who were overweight were 28% more likely to recall their parents making comments on their eating habits when they were younger. Those who remembered their parents commenting on their weight when they were a child were more likely to be unhappy with their current weight. They also had a negative body image as adults.

    Another recent study found that obesity and emotional problems like anxiety and feelings of low mood develop together from the age of seven. Experts think it’s because children who are overweight experience discrimination and bullying, which affects their self-esteem and contributes to increased depressive symptoms.

    “Depression may lead to obesity through increased emotional eating of high-calorie comfort foods, poor sleep patterns, and lethargy,” according to Dr. Charlotte Hardman, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, who was one of the study’s co-authors.

    Not only that but teasing can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which stimulates the appetite and increases the risk for depression and anxiety. Both are factors for specific eating disorders.

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    Negative words hurt our children

    Children are impressionable, and parents need to be more mindful of how their kids can develop a positive body image. It pays to be careful with what you say to your child — according to experts, negative words and comments will not only hurt your child now, but it will also stay with him as he grows. When you say it, your child will believe it.

    To nurture a child who is body-positive, it’s important that parents avoid criticizing their own body, their child’s body, or anybody else’s body for that matter. “Focus on the strengths of other people instead of talking about their bodies,” says Andrea Herrera in an article for SmartParenting.com.ph. “Whether someone is thin, fat, muscular, petite, or tall, find something good to say and talk about it with your child.”

    It will also help if you compliment your child’s body. Express admiration about what her body can do — run, jump, dance, hop, skip — instead of how it looks.

    Most importantly, introduce a healthy lifestyle by serving nutritious food and encouraging the whole family to eat healthily.

    We may not have control of what other people say to our children, but as long as we boost our child’s self-esteem and teach him to be more confident and aware of who really is, then he can easily shrug off the negativity.

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