By Greg Gargs Allard

originally published in Silent Charm under the pen moniker of Regina Thomas

Perhaps it’s time to encourage young girls to be healthy instead of skinny — some research and many reasonable psychologists, nutritionists and doctors have been saying this for years — but now there’s further evidence that backs this notion up.

According to a study by UCLA researchers that was published in JAMA Pediatrics, 2,300 10-year-old girls were questioned if they had ever been called “fat” by any close family members or anyone else regardless of what their weight actually was at the time.

The research found that young girls who were called “fat” by family members were 1.62 times more like to actually become obese by the age of 19. The study also found that being called “fat” by their peers made them 1.4 times more likely to be obese by 19 as well.

This study backs up a 2006 study at Florida State University that concluded that “fat-shaming” actually makes a person gain more weight — 2.4 times overall.

Chief author of the UCLA study, A. Janet Tomiyama, told the Science Blog of the Los Angeles Times, “Making people feel bad about their weight can backfire. It can be demoralizing. And we know that when people feel bad, they often reach out to food for comfort.”

This study suggests that a family member saying it, even if it is designed as constructive criticism, is potentially even more destructive than being picked on in school. This is because young girls are more apt to take what a loved one says to heart, and feeling bad about themselves, are more likely to stuff their feelings by turning to food.

This is, of course, a very strong argument for encouraging girls to go to see a nutritionist when she’s young instead of being told they’re too fat because what she hears from her loved ones in her formative years is likely to significantly affect her for the rest of her life.

Teaching girls (and boys for that matter) positive eating habits while giving them unconditional love is probably the best way for children to grow up confidentially, knowing they will be accepted and loved for how they are, while at the same time learning to live a healthy lifestyle by getting proper nutrition and regular exercise.

With the way the media portrays weight, we all should know how self-conscious and insecure many young girls can be about their self-image by now. Considering this, calling a child “fat,” even when well-intended, is actually harmful to the child and should make adults think twice about the messages they’re sending to the most impressionable of the younger generations.

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