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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Overweight youngsters may face discrimination at school and in relationships but a U.S. study has found they can also receive harsher treatment at home -- from their own parents.
Studies have shown parents are less likely to help overweight or obese offspring pay for college but researchers from the University of North Texas in Denton have also found parents may be less willing to help their overweight child buy a car.
"No one is going to be surprised that society discriminates against the overweight, but I think it is surprising that it can come from your parents," researcher Adriel Boals told Reuters Health.
"Similar to college tuition, purchasing a car during the college years is a major expense and investment that parents can choose to provide assistance with or not."
Boals and fellow researcher Amanda Kraha's study, published in the journal Obesity, noted that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and heavier people are known to face discrimination on the job, at school, and in relationships. They tend to earn less and are less likely to marry.
There is evidence that negative psychological consequences associated with overweight and obesity, such as depression and low self-esteem, could be a consequence of this type of prejudice.
For their study into family assistance with car purchase and weight status, the researchers surveyed 379 college students aged 17 to 26 years old of whom 30 percent were male.
They found that students who bought their own cars had a higher average body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) other than people who got help from their parents. Their average BMI was 25 compared to 23 for those helped out.
A BMI above 25 is considered overweight while above 30 is obese.
Among the 82 students who purchased cars themselves, 39 percent were overweight or obese, compared to about 18 percent of the 297 students who got help from their family.
Gender and family income did not explain the relationship between BMI and financial help, nor did whether or not a youngster engaged in risky behavior.
Boals said there were several viable explanations.
"One could just be from an evolutionary standpoint; parents may be less likely to invest resources in offspring they believe are unfit," he said.
Or, he added, parents' behavior might reflect the tendency in general for people to discriminate against heavier individuals.
"I don't think the parents are doing this knowingly," he added.
Reporting by Anne Harding, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith