When the "Ugly Duckling" is Overweight

Overweight kids experience bullying at high rates

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most are familiar with pop culture's stereotypes when it comes to bullying. "The fat kid" always gets made fun of by other kids. But bullying is no laughing matter. A recent study found that the majority of teenagers getting treatment for their weight had been bullied.

Most were bullied by their classmates, but parents, coaches and teachers were some of the perpetrators too.

Bullying is linked to long-term effects ranging from depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. With childhood obesity rates increasing, the researchers expressed concern about bullying as a public health concern.

"Report all bullying."

The study, led by Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD, of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, sought to learn more about children who are bullied because of their weight. The researchers conducted online self-reported surveys with 361 adolescents (aged 14 to 18) who were attending a camp for weight loss treatment.

The teens were asked about whether they were bullied, in what ways, for what reasons, how frequently, by whom and in what locations.

According to Dr. Puhl, the definition of bullying provided to the teens in the survey read as follows: "Bullying is when a person or group of people intentionally and repeatedly hurt another individual during face-to-face interactions or through technology (i.e., a computers or cell phone).

"This may include being mean, spreading rumors, teasing, harassing, name-calling, insulting, ignoring, excluding, embarrassing, threatening, making fun of someone or even being physically aggressive. Sometimes, students are bullied in these ways because of their appearance, such as the way they dress or their body weight."

More than half of the teens – 64 percent of the respondents – reported being bullied at school because of their weight. The heavier they were, the more likely they were to report bullying.

Other common reasons the teens reported being bullied for included their appearance (89 percent), someone they're friends with (74 percent), their clothes (70 percent) and someone they are dating (65 percent).

The bullying also lasted for lengthy periods of time. Over a third of the respondents who had been bullied – 36 percent – reported being teased or bullied for five years while 78 percent reported being bullied for at least a year.

Nearly all the bullied teens (92 percent) reported that their peers had bullied them, but other common perpetrators of bullying included their friends (70 percent), PE teachers or coaches (42 percent), their parents (37 percent) or other teachers (27 percent).

The most common kind of bullying reported was teasing, reported by 75 to 88 percent depending on the type of teasing reported: 88 percent said they had been laughed at, and 75 percent reported being loudly insulted or had faces made at them.

The second most common form of bullying was social bullying, reported by 74 to 82 percent of the respondents. This includes being left out of social group or activities (82 percent), having rumors spread about them (79 percent) or being otherwise isolated (74 percent).

The fact that parents were sometimes the bullies means that parents need to be educated on the effects of bullying and be conscious of how they talk to their children about health issues such as weight.

"Our findings show that weight loss treatment-seeking adolescents experience pervasive weight-based torment from classmates and adults," the authors wrote.

The study was published December 24 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The authors indicated no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 23, 2012
Last Updated:
December 27, 2012