Would you believe that we start discriminating against fat people before we even know how to read? That’s the scary conclusion of a study that found that children, as young as 4-years-old, discriminate against the obese.

Researchers read children 3 different versions of a story about a character named Alfie. In one version, he was overweight, in another he was average weight, and in the third version, he was in a wheelchair. Then, the kids completed a questionnaire that asked them, “Would you be friends with Alfie?” And “Do you think Alfie would be invited to parties?” 

The result? Only 1 of the kids said they’d be friends with fat Alfie. They were much more likely to be friends with average-weight Alfie or disabled Alfie. Also, the children believed that fat Alfie was much less likely to win a race, do well at school, be happy with his looks or get invited to parties than the other Alfies.

Researchers believe that children pick up anti-fat cues mainly from family and friends, as well as images and messages on TV and in the movies.  In fact, a new worldwide study found that people everywhere have extremely negative attitudes about overweight people, and consider them “ugly, lazy, and lacking self-control.”

Researchers say it’s crucial to stop fat discrimination early, so that kids don’t grow up to be biased adults. We need to watch how we talk about ourselves, saying things like, “I need to lose weight! I’m so fat!” and how we talk about others, like “She doesn’t need another hamburger, does she.” Because what we may think of as an innocent comment is having a powerful impact on our kids.