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Obesity stigma starts at school

Children's popularity at school is directly proportional to their size, with overweight children as young as five shunned and vilified by their peers, a study has found.

It suggests that the social cost of childhood obesity may be as high as health costs, with fat children struggling with rejection, loneliness and low self-confidence.

The study was conducted in a group of more than 400 primary school children aged between five and 10. Almost one quarter (24pc) were overweight for their age and 12pc were obese.

All of the children were asked to nominate three of their classmates to come to their party and identify three whom they would least like to come.

The results found that popularity was directly proportional to body mass index, with the vast majority of invitations going to underweight or average weight children. Those rejected by their classmates were predominantly overweight or obese. In some of the year groups the obese children received no party invitations at all.

The trend was particularly strong among the boys. Researchers were also surprised to find that obese and overweight children behaved in the same way as their thinner classmates, rejecting other overweight children.

Ekaterina Kornilaki, a senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Crete, said: "The stigma against overweight children starts early and remains in the years ahead." She said that the findings cast light on the rise of eating disorders among young children.