From: University of Toronto

Teasing young girls about weight has dire results, researchers say

Girls who are teased about their weight can develop serious eating disorders, poor body image and distorted eating patterns, according to preliminary results from a University of Toronto study on body-based harassment.

June Larkin, a professor at U of T's Institute for Women's Studies and Gender Studies and Carla Rice of Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Science Centre studied the verbal abuse of girls at ages 12 and 13 -- when bodies are changing due to puberty -- at the hands of male classmates. "We found that a boy calling a girl fat is a very common practice regardless of how much a girl may weigh," Larkin says. They discovered "body-based harassment" often creates distorted eating patterns in girls -- many of whom are not overweight.

"During interviews about harassment, we found that girls introduced the subject of body image; in interviews about body image, we found the girls talking about harassment. It became very clear there was a connection between body-based harassment and the development of poor body image and disordered eating patterns," Larkin says. "Up until now, this link hasn't been explored."

The study involved approximately 100 girls in grades seven and eight from schools in the Kitchener and Waterloo areas. Larkin hopes that by studying gender-based body harassment, programs can be developed to prevent eating and body image problems. Her study was supported by the institute, the Waterloo Community Health Department, the Waterloo Region School District and the Zonta Club, a local Waterloo-Kitchener women's foundation.

Michah Rynor
U of T Public Affairs

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright 2004