Overweight kids tend to be bullied more, study suggests
PROMPTED by the empirical fact that obesity is now a much more common phenomenon, the Center for Human Growth and Development (CHGD) at the University of Michigan started a study to research the implications of being overweight among kids.
Dr Julie Lumeng, MD who is an assistant professor at CHGD said that researchers hoped to be able to find protective factors against being bullied, such as doing well in school. To their consternation, their study suggested that if a kid was overweight, the risk of being bullied increased no matter what other factors were considered like gender, race and family income.
Selected carefully from 10 areas around the United States, the nationally representative sample comprised 821 boys and girls. Bullying behaviours were studied over three primary school years (third, fifth and sixth grades). Other sample characteristics: Half were male; 15% were overweight in the earliest year of the study (third grade).
Findings reported by the third year of the study (sixth grade):
- teachers reported that 34% of the study children had been bullied,
- mothers reported that 45% of the children had been bullied,
- 25% of the children themselves said they had been bullied.
As part of the study, previous research was also taken into account which showed that boys, minorities and children from low-income groups were more likely to be bullied. The study also considered a child's social skills and academic achievement in their analysis to see if all of these made any difference in the final findings.
"No matter how much we retested, the findings were very robust. Obese kids are more likely to be bullied," said Dr Lumeng, attributing it to the prevailing prejudice against overweight or obese people. Decrying such prejudice, Dr Lumeng noted that obesity was not just a case of willpower but is a brain-based disorder, hoping this understanding would dissipate the negative reactions against obesity.
Bullying - how to respond
"Be supportive, and let your child know that you'll help them. Consult with your child and ask how he or she would like you to get involved," advised Dr Dana Rofey, an assistant professor with the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Noting that bullying was the most common psychosocial complaint from her patients, Dr Rafey recommended that parents continue to engage the child on the issue even if he or she said that they were in control of the situation. Kids needed to be educated on how to avoid situations that might lead to teasing or bullying. Parents may need to get involved in school if necessary to alleviate the causes.
Source: The HealthScout Network