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Labeling Young Girls 'Fat' Leads to Obesity Later

A smiling pair of sisters looking at the camera
Photograph by Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

We all remember the phrase, "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words can never hurt me." Turns out, though, that words do have a profound impact on the health of young, impressionable girls.

A study, which was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, recorded the heights and weights of nearly 2,500 girls when they were 10 years old and 19 years old. The researchers also kept track of whether the girls were told they were fat when they were younger, according to CBSNews.com.

The study's findings showed that girls who were labeled as "fat" or "overweight" when they were young "were 1.66 times more likely to be obese at 19." A doctor on the study noted that, "Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained."

But how does being called "fat" when you're 10 affect your overall health and well-being, nearly a decade later? A co-author on the study said that when they're labeled that way at such a young age, the girls might fear they'll face the stigma that overweight people experience. In other words, even if they're not actually fat, the fear of getting stigmatized for being fat could ultimately lead them down the path to being overweight: "Recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating."

In other words, refraining from noting young girls' weights could prevent unhealthy habits down the road.

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