Is fat talking a causal risk factor for body dissatisfaction? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Objective:Fat talking has been assumed to be a causal risk factor for body dissatisfaction in a number of prevention programs and body confidence campaigns. The aim of this paper was to assess whether fat talking meets three criteria necessary for causal risk factors, namely whether fat talking is: (a) cross-sectionally associated with body dissatisfaction; (b) prospectively associated with changes in body dissatisfaction; and (c) associated with changes in body dissatisfaction in experimental studies.Method:A systematic literature review was conducted using electronic databases and hand searching of relevant journals. Meta-analyses provided pooled effect size estimates, and meta-regressions were used to determine whether age, gender or risk of bias were effect modifiers of the relationship.Results:Searches revealed 24 studies. There was a significant cross-sectional association (r = 0.297, 95% CI = 0.225–0.349), which differed in strength between age groups and genders. There was a prospective association between fat talking and changes in body dissatisfaction in long term (r = 0.144, 95% CI = 0.050–0.234), but not in short-term studies (r = 0.022, 95% CI = −0.131–0.174). One study showed that experimental exposure to fat talking was associated with increases in body dissatisfaction (d = 0.124).Discussion:As such, there is good evidence that fat talking is a correlate of body dissatisfaction. The few prospective and experimental studies give an initial indication that fat talking is a causal risk factor for body dissatisfaction. Further work is needed to support this position. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2013; 46:643–652)

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