Background: Verbal harassment, such as bullying and hate speech, has received considerable attention recently, but less is known about weight-based teasing and its potential harmful effects on young people's psychosocial well-being.
Objective: To determine the associations of weight-based teasing and body satisfaction, self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts using a large sample of adolescents.
Design: Secondary analysis of survey and anthropometric data.
Setting: Ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities in the urban and suburban school districts of the Minneapolis/St Paul metropolitan area.
Participants: A school-based sample of 4746 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 at 31 public middle schools and high schools.
Main outcome measures: Weight-based teasing from peers or family members, body satisfaction, self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Results: Of the eligible students, 81.5% participated; 30.0% of adolescent girls and 24.7% of adolescent boys were teased by peers, and 28.7% of adolescent girls and 16.1% of adolescent boys were teased by family members. Approximately 14.6% of adolescent girls and 9.6% of adolescent boys reported teasing from both of these sources. Teasing about body weight was consistently associated with low body satisfaction, low self-esteem, high depressive symptoms, and thinking about and attempting suicide, even after controlling for actual body weight. These associations held for adolescent boys and girls, across racial, ethnic, and weight groups. Furthermore, teasing from 2 sources was associated with a higher prevalence of emotional health problems than either teasing from a single source or no teasing.
Conclusions: Physicians and other health care providers should recognize the importance of weight-based teasing for young patients. Policy, programs, and education should focus on increasing awareness of what constitutes weight-based teasing, its potentially harmful effects on adolescents' emotional well-being, and reduction of this behavior.