Thinking of your children as fat might actually make them gain weight, according to a study into the stigma obese kids face as they grow up overweight.
“The stigma attached to being an overweight child may explain why children whose parents view them as being overweight tend to have elevated weight gain during development,” according to a study in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science.
The researchers thought parents would be a powerful force to combat childhood obesity, but were surprised to learn through their studies of Australian and Irish families that parental berating of a child about his weight could have the opposite effect. (RELATED: Agriculture Secretary: Trump Can’t Make America Fat Again)
“Although parents’ perception that their children are overweight has been presumed to be important to management of childhood obesity, recent studies have suggested the opposite; when a parent identifies a child as being overweight, that child is at increased risk of future weight gain,” psychology researchers Eric Robinson of the University of Liverpool and Angelina Sutin of Florida State University College of Medicine said in the study.
If a parent considered a 4- or 5-year-old child overweight, that child would likely gain more weight by age 14 or 15, the researchers found.
The two psychologists started with a 2004 study of 2,823 Australian children that collected body measurements and asked how 4- and 5-year-old kids viewed their weight. The researchers took height and weight measurements again when the kids were 14 or 15.
The researchers also analyzed data from a study of Irish 5,886 families and saw similar results.
While the two psychologists could not find a reason parental perception of a child’s weight affected later weight gain, “the findings of the present studies support the proposition that parents’ perception of their children as overweight could have unintended negative consequences on their children’s health.”
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