The harmful effects can begin as young as age 11.
While many kids view teasing as a form of harmless fun, damaging words can often leave a long-lasting impact. In fact, new research shows that teasing adolescent girls about their weight could be linked to a lifetime of unhealthy eating behaviors.
To determine whether teasing can predict disordered eating, researchers at the University of Houston examined its impact on 135 Hispanic and African American girls around the age of 11. All of the girls had a high body fat percentage, and 81 percent were considered obese. The girls answered questions about being teased by their peers, as well as how they responded to the teasing.
The results, which are published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, suggest reason for concern. While the study showed that boys initiate the majority of the teasing (62 percent of recipients have been teased by their male peers), more than half the respondents had been teased by girls as well. In some cases, the teasing even came from their siblings.
But the teasing results in more than just tears. Seventy percent of girls reported they had engaged in weight-control behavior, which ranged from cutting back on meals or skipping them all together to severely dieting in order to become thinner. Twelve percent said they had engaged in binging or purging, and 33 percent said they had engaged in emotional eating.
The researchers hope the findings will help prompt the design of preventive intervention, and stress the importance of no-tolerance policies.
"Results from this study may guide health educators and practitioners to design interventions to teach coping strategies to these children to help them deal with peer-weight teasing," Norma Olvera, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. "The findings also support social policies of no tolerance of weight-related teasing particularly in school settings."