Ostracized Overweight Kids Eat More, Exercise Less

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Nutrition: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Nutrition: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens, Nutrition: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

overweight kids

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When overweight kids are teased or ostracized because of their weight, it doesn't inspire them to slim down. Instead, they get depressed. They eat more and exercise less.

It's a vicious cycle -- one you may already know about if you ever watched an after-school special, ever been or known an overweight person or have a lick of common sense.

However, just on the outside chance merciless teasing and social isolation could be the newest diet craze, researchers at the University of Buffalo collected some data. USA Today reports they found out the prevailing theory was right all along. Teasing or excluding fat kids is not nice -- or particularly helpful.

According to USA Today, researchers watched 40 overweight kids play a computer game that simulates tossing a ball alongside 40 kids whose weight is about average. They found the overweight kids chowed down on 200 extra calories or more when their video character was excluded from the game. They average-weight kids didn't do that.

Lead researcher Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, an assistant professor of pediatrics, tells USA Today it could be that corpulent kids seek comfort in food.

She suggests helping kids out by giving them alternative means to deal with their emotions. "Kids may need to talk about their feelings and seek comfort in other activities," she tells the paper.

Other activities might include making friends.

Salvy's previous research shows making friends can have a big impact on children's eating habits.

Last year, Salvy and her fellow researchers conducted a story where 54 overweight and non-overweight youth (24 boys and 30 girls between the ages of 9 and 11) were randomly assigned to bring a friend or to be paired with an unfamiliar peer. The kids worked on a computer game to earn points that could be exchanged for food or time to spend with a friend or an unfamiliar peer.

As the game became more difficult, participants matched with an unfamiliar peer took the path of least resistance. If playing for food was difficult, they played for time with a peer. When playing for peer time became difficult, they played for food.

The story was very different among participants paired with a friend. Everyone wanted to spend time with his or her friend instead of food.

In a University of Buffalo press release, Salvy says those results are telling.

"Consider a person who usually comes home alone after school and eats out of boredom," Salvy says in the release. "But on this day, she has a play date with a friend and socializes instead of eating. In this case, socializing is acting as a substitute for eating. Identifying substitutes provides a potential way to reduce behavior.

"Our findings underscore the importance of considering the child's social network in studying youth's motivation to eat," she adds.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.