The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.
Overall, the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later.
A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study's senior author, said simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later.
Co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, said that simply being called fat may lead to behaviors that later result in obesity.
The findings have been published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.