A study by UNL assistant psychology professor Timothy Nelson examining just how tweens are affected by weight-related taunting is starting to get some buzz.
The research, recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, suggests that weight-based criticism in particular can have significant effects on how pre-teens perceive their own bodies. The research is among the first to specifically examine the impact of weight-based criticism on pre-adolescents and also hints that the practice can cause other health and emotional issues for its victims.
The study is novel in a few ways. Most psych studies examine adolescents’ self-views in the face of criticism from their peers; this research isolates pre-teens and teases out weight-based taunting’s effects in specific. The findings are very stark: Criticism of weight, in particular, can contribute to issues that go beyond general problems with self-esteem. Overweight pre-teens who endured weight-based criticism tended to judge their bodies more harshly and were less satisfied with their body sizes than students who weren’t teased about their weight. That’s a problem, Nelson and his co-researchers said, because children who develop such negative views of their bodies are at higher risk for internalizing problems, developing irregular eating behaviors and ongoing victimization.
The Detroit News is the first out of the blocks with some coverage, posting about it on its Health & Fitness weblog. The study also has drawn interest from a few other national outlets, such as LiveScience.com (and its partners, such as MSNBC), so we expect to see it hang around for a while.