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Kids Teased About Their Weight Just End Up Putting On More, Study Says

Overweight kids who are teased about their appearance have a 33 percent rise in BMI every year compared to kids that don't experience this bullying, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Paediatric Obesity, looked at 110 overweight children over at least eight years of their lives -- some were studied for 15 years.

The average age at the beginning of their enrollment in the study was approximately 12 years old.

The kids were either overweight on enrollment (above the 85th percentile in weight) or considered at risk of becoming overweight because of their parents.

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They were asked to fill out questionnaires about the weight-related bullying or teasing that they experienced.

Bullying was common among the overweight children -- 62 percent reported that they were teased about their weight.

There were different forms of bullying recorded, including: rumors being spread about them, being socially ostracised, cyberbullying, and even having their own parents tease them about their weight.

READ MORE: The Complicated Minefield Of Tackling Childhood Obesity

Children who suffered the highest levels of bullying across each of these categories were found to be the most likely to put on weight each year.

Those who experienced high levels of teasing gained an average of 0.2 kilograms of weight each year compared to those that weren't -- amounting to an extra three kilograms by the end of the 15 years.

The worst teasing was associated with 0.76 points added to their body mass index (BMI) every year -- a third more than those who weren't bullied.

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Professor Louise Barr, a paediatrician and childhood obesity researcher from the University of Sydney, told 10 daily that this study adds to an established literature of studies that indicate teasing has adverse consequences for weight gain.

"It's pervasive and it doesn't lead to improvements in weight status," she said.

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One 2017 study following nearly 2,000 young adults found that weight-based teasing was more likely to lead to obesity in adulthood.

Barr said that overweight children are frequently the victims of weight stigma and receive negative comments from family members, parents, peers at school, teachers, and even physicians.

She said that teasing people about their weight is like "cutting people down at the knees" and people who want to help their loved ones experiencing weight problems need to take a "thoughtful, caring approach".

Obesity is a widespread problem in Australia, with the number of adults deemed severely obese almost doubling in the past two decades.

The researchers from the study theorised that the  bullied kids experienced weight gain possibly a result of both low self-esteem dragging motivation down, as well as increased cortisol levels from chronic stress.

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Barr said that studies like this should draw attention to society's attitudes towards obesity and make people reflect on their unhelpful behaviour.

"There needs to be modelling from school staff and teachers about the way you talk about people and the language that's used around people that are bigger," she said.

The World Obesity Federation (WOF) promotes reduction of stigma through 'people-first' language that describes larger individuals as "people with obesity" rather than "obese people".

READ MORE: Australia’s Rate Of Severe Obesity Has Doubled

The WOF said that overweight people can experience prejudice in many facets of their lives, including healthcare, the media, personal settings, education, and the workplace.

Barr said that the adverse effects of weight gain as a result of teasing are not exclusive to children, and adults will often experience the same problems.

"Cutting someone down is never a solution for a healthcare problem," she said.

Contact: elscott@networkten.com.au