Whatever you do, don’t call somebody a “researcher”. It could condemn them to a nasty, brutish, and short-tempered life. The kind where most of their time is spent scrambling for grants, position, and anti-commonsense headlines.
Like this one, from the Boston Globe: Stop Calling Young Girls ‘Fat’. Before we move on, please to note the scare quotes.
Paper sez, “Researchers concluded that 10-year-old girls who had been told they were ‘too fat’ were more likely to find themselves in the obese range of the body mass index by age 19.” More scare quotes. Can somebody not be fat but only “fat”? Never mind.
The news was culled from the peer-reviewed letter in JAMA Pediatrics, “Weight Labeling and Obesity: A Longitudinal Study of Girls Aged 10 to 19 Years” by A. Janet Tomiyama and the inaptly named Jeffrey Hunger.
The authors worry that some kids don’t like to be called fat and take it badly when they are. The authors say that dreaded “stigma processes can begin when an individual experiences weight labeling.” Weight labeling is scientifically defined: “Recent research suggests that the negative psychological effects of weight stigma can begin when one is simply labeled as ‘too fat’ by others.”
So Tomiyama followed a couple of thousand girls, some of whom at age 10 were “weight labeled” and some not. She then looked at the same girls (those she could find, anyway) at age 19 and put them on the scale. Some of these girls turned out fat and some did not.
The older fat girls were, Tomiyama discovered, more likely to be called fat when they were younger. Conclusion? “Weight stigma may contribute to weight gain by increasing obesogenic stress processes and triggering weight-promoting coping behaviors like overeating”.
In other words, calling fat 10-year-old girls fat made them fat at 19. How? By activating their obesogenic stress processes, a super-sophisticated-sounding term which I have memorized and will drop into conversation every chance I get.
The results were provided by a statistical model (logistic regression) which “controlled” for the girls’ weight when 10, so therefore the 19-year-old girls’ fatness couldn’t have been caused by their earlier fatness. Wee p-values (actually, narrow “confidence intervals”) confirmed the statistics. And this is all the proof we need.
The authors’ final word: “Researchers, public health officials, and clinicians should consider nonstigmatizing approaches to improving the health and well-being of overweight children.” In other words, don’t tell the kiddies they’re fat because it’ll cause them to stay fat.
The theory that some people are just fatter than others, and that if a kid is fat at 10 she is likely to be fat at 19, is to be discounted. Especially when it could be society’s fault.
Thanks to our friend Willis Eschenbach for alerting us to this study.