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Updated 29 May 2017

Teasing teens about weight may cause lasting harm

There is a need for broader anti-bullying initiatives to protect overweight teens against emotional abuse – at school and at home.

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In South Africa overweight among teenagers is a problem, with more girls being overweight than boys. This may be linked to physical inactivity, as boys tend to engage more in physical activity than girls.

These teens are often taunted about their weight and a new study finds that teenagers who are taunted about their weight may be more likely to become obese adults who struggle with poor body image.

Researchers also found that teens who are bullied about their weight are more likely to become emotional eaters. Teen bullies often target peers' weight, but weight-based teasing can also occur at home.

Serious long-term consequences

"Our findings suggest the need for broader anti-bullying initiatives that include both the school and family/home environments as targets for intervention," lead author Rebecca Puhl said in a University of Connecticut news release.

The study was published recently in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Puhl is a professor and deputy director of the university's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

The researchers found that teens who face insults about their weight not only may be upset at the time, they may face serious long-term consequences, including obesity as well as unhealthy dieting and eating habits.

Unhealthy weight-control measures

The study involved nearly 1 800 adults. They were tracked for 15 years, from their teens into their early 30s. Men and women who were teased about their weight as teens were both about twice as likely to be obese in adulthood.

Women who were teased as teens were more likely to eat in response to stress and engage in other unhealthy weight-control measures as adults, the study found. They were also more likely to have a poor body image and were more likely to diet.

Men who had been teased about their weight as teens were also less satisfied with their bodies and were more likely to engage in emotional eating.

Over the long term, women were more affected than men by weight-based teasing from family members, the researchers said.

Emotional support crucial

The researchers stressed that children and teens who may be teased need support.

"Health professionals working with youth and families may have unique opportunities to assess youth for their experiences of weight-based teasing, educate parents about the damaging health consequences of teasing, and offer families resources to support children and help them cope with weight-based teasing using healthy, effective strategies," said study co-author Dianne Neumark-Sztainer.

She is head of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health's Division of Epidemiology and Community Health.

It is important to tell someone what is happening and develop a sense of self-confidence according to a Health24 article. Teens should never feel alone and should always have a safe environment in this regard.

Read more:

Obesity in SA: where will it end?

Shocking facts on fat kids

SA eats and drinks too much, and doesn't move much

 
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