Obese Kids More Likely to Get Bullied

Obese children have it tough. Not only are they set up for all kinds of health risks, including type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, they are more likely to be bullied than their svelte counterparts, a new study suggests.

And the bully finding held up no matter the kids' gender, race, socioeconomic status, social skills or academic achievement.

About 37 percent of children in the United States are overweight and roughly 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 6- to 19-year-olds, obesity has tripled over the past two decades, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

In addition, parents of obese children rate bullying as their top health concern and past studies have shown that obese children who are bullied experience more depression anxiety and loneliness. Besides making kids miserable at school, bullying can be mentally and physically dangerous to its victims. Just this winter, a Massachusetts high-school student hanged herself after suffering intense bullying by classmates.

Dr. Julie C. Lumeng, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and colleagues detail their results in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers studied 821 children who were participating in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. These children were recruited at birth at 10 study sites around the country.

The team used reports on bullying provided by the child him or herself, the mother and child's teacher. The study accounted for grade level, gender, race, family income-to-needs ratio, racial and socioeconomic composition of the school, and child social skills and academic achievement as reported by mothers and teachers.

Obese children had higher odds of being bullied no matter their gender, race, family socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills or academic achievement. The results suggest that being obese, by itself, increases the likelihood of being a victim of bullying, the researchers suggest.

"Physicians who care for obese children should consider the role that being bullied is playing in the child's well-being," Lumeng said. "Because perceptions of children are connected to broader societal perceptions about 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 or overweight."

Other recent studies have also found factors that up the chances of a child being bullied, including being unpopular, being lesbian or gay, and being socially inept. For instance, one recent study found gay and lesbian teens get bullied two to three times more than their heterosexual peers.

Live Science Staff
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