The Effects of Weight Teasing on Girls with Healthy BMIs

Early intervention is needed for all girls.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
March/April 2011 Volume 22, Number 2
©2011 Gürze Books

It is well known that women with higher body mass indexes (BMIs; kg/m2) who are teased about their weight during childhood are at increased risk for disordered eating behaviors. Researchers at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, wondered what the effect of teasing about weight would have on women who are at healthy BMIs. Little research has been done in this area.

Sports nutritionist Virginia Quick, PhD and Carol Byrd-Brenbrenner, PhD, RD, recruited 583 women aged 18 to 25 years with healthy BMIs (range: 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2; median: 21.6 kg/m2), no history of eating disorders, or chronic nutrition-related disease to participate in a study assessing eating behaviors, an a history of being teased about their weight (J Am Diet Assn 2010; September, Abstract, A-43). Using the sample’s median BMI of 21.6, participants were divided into two groups, those with lower healthy BMIs (269 women) and those with upper healthy BMIs (269 women).

The Short Perception of Teasing Scale (POTS) consists of 11 items answered on a five-point scale ranging from 1 = never to 5 = frequently, and assesses one’s history of being teased about weight and abilities/competencies. The POTS yields a six-item weight-related teasing subscale and a five-item competency-related teasing subscale, both formed by summing the applicable items. It has shown high convergence with other measures of teasing.

Teasing increased with slightly higher BMIs

The results showed that the higher healthy BMI group was significantly more likely to have experienced weight teasing during childhood. Of the subset who experienced teasing (189 women), women in the higher healthy BMI group reported the teasing was significantly more upsetting than did those in the lower healthy BMI group. Teased higher healthy BMI women had significantly higher Eating Disorders Examination-Questionnaire’s eating, weight, and shape concerns subscale scores, with higher scores indicating greater eating disorder symptoms. EDE-Q scores rose significantly as the severity of teasing increased.

Thus, even women with healthy BMIs were at increased risk for disordered eating behaviors as a result of weight teasing during childhood. Although it is not known whether the increased disordered eating behavior risk was caused primarily by weight teasing, the results of this study suggest it is wise to consider weight teasing prevention interventions for parents, teachers, and others who care for children.

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