Family ‘teasing’ kids about their weight is more damaging than we realised - psychologist explains why

‘Weight teasing’ can have long-term, harmful effects on kids that they carry forward into adulthood

Child standing on a set of scales
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A psychologist has broken down the harmful effects that 'weight teasing' can have on kids and our team's personal experiences prove that seemingly innocent comments can leave a lasting impression. 

In the age of rampant wellness trends, that has seen us go from simple healthy eating and helpful 15-minute workouts for busy mums to some of the most worrying online 'wellness' challenges, 'weight teasing' has only gained traction as we focus more and more on body shapes, comparing diets, and worrying over more-than-normal weights. 

But while you might think that kids are largely kept away from that as they focus on playing with their favourite toys and on whichever video game is trending that month, you'd sadly be wrong. 

'Weight teasing,' the comments and jokes said to a young family member about their weight, body size or eating habits, has become a prevalent phenomenon across the world and it's leaving a lasting impact on children who experience it. 

"You were hungry!" a grandparent says to their grandson when he's cleaned his plate. "Look at that belly!" an aunt says to her niece. "You don't want to eat too many of those," an older cousin remarks when a youngster is enjoying a donut or cupcake. The comments seem innocent enough, but psychologist Mark Travers says this weight teasing negatively impacts a child’s mental health

"It distorts a child’s self-image," he writes in Forbes. "Subjective perceptions of body weight are often based on external influences, including remarks from family members based on their own perceptions of weight and dieting," he adds, explaining that a child can only understand what is a 'healthy' and what is an 'unhealthy' body from what those around them say - not from what is scientifically true. 

"When a person is repeatedly teased about their weight by family members, they often believe and internalise these remarks," he said. "The individual begins to see themselves as flawed or inadequate, regardless of their actual physical appearance or health. This internalised negativity can persist long after the teasing stops."

This was true for Lucy Wigley, our parenting writer here at, who shared her own experience of 'weight teasing' and revealed how the comments her family often thought were 'funny' still linger in her mind decades on and impact her approach to mealtimes even today. 

She explained, "I did a lot of dancing as a kid and spent a huge amounts of time in leotards - it made it very easy to see changes to my body shape. 

"My dad and brother took a lot of opportunities to pass comment on my weight, sometimes seriously and sometimes just because they thought it would be funny. But to this day it's made me wary of eating in public, and I still hate eating around my family in case somebody decides to throw in a 'do you really need to be eating that?' comment and laugh. It's not funny, because when you're an adult who believes they shouldn't find pleasure in food and dislikes eating around others, there's not much to laugh at in that."

Travers also explains that weight teasing can create a home environment of rejection and abandonment, leaving a child to feel 'unsafe' and uncomfortable in their home. 

He writes, "Psychological safety involves feeling secure and accepted in one’s environment without fear of being judged or ridiculed. Weight teasing breaks this sense of security. When trust is eroded, individuals may become guarded and less likely to share their feelings or seek support from their parents.

"Children can start to anticipate negative comments or ridicule whenever they are around their parents. This fear can cause anxiety and stress, making the home environment a source of tension rather than comfort," he explains. "Consequently, weight teasing can deeply damage parent-child relationships, leading to hurt, resentment, mistrust and emotional distance."

This sort of ridicule left our family editor here at, Stephanie Lowe, anticipating rude comments from family members and has her eating habits in adulthood have suffered massively because of it. 

"When I hit puberty - and I was never 'naturally thin' - my brothers took to calling me 'Yokozuna.' For those not up to date with your 90s World Wrestling Federation characters, he was a large round contender. I remember being told 'They're just teasing, ignore them. You're being too sensitive.' Yeah, because I was the problem...

"Fatty was almost my second name at home, and from memory was never stopped by my parents. This has stuck with me throughout my adult life. I turned to every diet going, and now as a 41-year-old woman I don't know how to eat by myself. I don't know how to listen to my bodily cues as I have been so blindly reliant on 'sins' and 'points' and rules."

In other family news, following the news that 1 in 4 children want to go on a diet, an expert reveals how parents can teach their kids to celebrate and love their bodies. And, young children ‘lack the self-awareness’ to describe their feelings and could be more sad than you realise - here’s the top 3 early risk factors for childhood depression. Plus, did you know that teens ‘transmit’ mental health disorders in the classroom? It's left scientists baffled. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.