Objectives: This study aimed to assess the prevalence of perceived weight-teasing and associations with unhealthy weight-control behaviors and binge eating in a population-based sample of youth. Particular focus was placed on overweight youth, who may be most vulnerable to weight-teasing.
Methods: The study population included 4746 adolescents from St Paul/Minneapolis public schools who completed surveys and anthropometric measurements as part of Project EAT, a population-based study of eating patterns and weight concerns among teens.
Results: There were statistically significant associations between perceived weight-teasing and weight status; both overweight and underweight youth reported higher levels of teasing than average weight youth. Very overweight youth (body mass index (BMI) > or = 95th percentile) were most likely to be teased about their weight; 63% of very overweight girls, and 58% of very overweight boys reported being teased by their peers, while weight-teasing by family members was reported by 47% of these girls and 34% of these boys. Youth who were teased about their weight, particularly overweight girls, reported that it bothered them. Perceived weight-teasing was significantly associated with disordered eating behaviors among overweight and non-overweight girls and boys. For example, among overweight youth, 29% of girls and 18% of boys who experienced frequent weight-teasing reported binge-eating as compared to 16% of girls and 7% of boys who were not teased.
Conclusions: Many adolescents, in particular those who are overweight, report being teased about their weight and being bothered by the teasing. Weight-teasing is associated with disordered eating behaviors that may place overweight youth at increased risk for weight gain. Educational interventions and policies are needed to curtail weight-related mistreatment among youth.