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Obese Children Bullied More Often: Study

Steps To Address School Bullying, Obesity Badly Needed

Students eating vegetablesThe increased risks obesity poses to a child's physical health have been well-publicized. Now, a new study shows that obesity takes a toll on a child's mental health as well: being obese, in and of itself, makes it more likely that a child will be the victim of school bullying, increasing the risk that the child would experience depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Analyzing data about third, fifth and sixth grade public school students in ten U.S. cities, researchers at the University of Michigan found that obese 8- to 11-year old US children "were more likely to be bullied compared with their non-overweight peers regardless of a child's gender, race, family [socioeconomic background], school demographic profile, social skills or [level of] academic achievement."

The study is reported in the June 2010 journal Pediatrics.

Important findings

The study authors found that:

  • Obesity leads to (e.g. causes) bullying, not the other way around: researchers found no evidence that being bullied created stress and unhappiness leading to behaviors, such as excessive comfort food consumption, that results in  excessive weight gain;

  • The higher odds of being a victim of bullying among obese children was equally strong across children who were male and female, white and non-white, and poor and non-poor and across all schools of all types of demographic profiles and 10 US study sites;

  • The effect of being obese on the odds of being bullied was greater than the odds of being bullied because the child was poor or was a boy;

  • Obese and overweight children are more likely to develop symptoms of depression; and
  • The stigma remains: Despite the fact that childhood obesity is more widespread, the stigmatization of obese children remains pervasive.

Recommendations

Researchers say the study has several implications:

  1. Because obese and overweight children are more likely to develop depressive symptoms, steps both to address bullying within schools, and that address obesity at the individual and community levels, are "badly needed";

  2. In caring for the obese child, providers "should consider the role that being bullied may be playing in the child's well-being."

  3. Because the bullying of obese children "seems to be rooted in negative perceptions of obesity by other children," approaches need to be developed to modify those perceptions;

  4. Because such perceptions are connected to broader societal perceptions regarding body type, it is "important to fashion messages aimed at reducing the premium placed on thinness and the negative stereotypes that are associated with being obese and overweight."

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Created: May 3, 2010

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