It may seem like a harmless playground antic, but teasing girls about their weight could have long-lasting and harmful effects to their perception of themselves and of food.
Health educator Norma Olvera from University of Houston examined the impact of teasing on minority, adolescent girls, specifically as predictors of disordered eating behaviors. Olvera said there are two reasons to pursue this kind of research.
“First because Hispanic and African-American girls are at a higher risk of obesity, which may increase their desire to be thinner and lead them to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors,” she said. “Secondly, there is not a lot of research that explores these issues in minority girls.”
Olvera’s study surveyed 135 girls who were all about 11-years-old. All the girls had high body fat; 81 percent were considered obese. Almost all the girls indicated they were unhappy with their body size, wishing they were thinner than their perceived size. When teasing was added to this climate about body size and weight, Olvera said, it sparked unhealthy, or what she called “disordered” eating behaviors.
“Weight status may be a more sensitive issue for children who are overweight or obese, and being teased about it may elicit a stronger response from them as opposed to children who are not overweight or obese,” she said.
The study is published in the Journal of Early Adolescence.