A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that obese children have a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, social skills, academic achievement or gender. The study, titled “Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades” was carried out by Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and colleagues from Boston University School of Public Health, University of Arkansas and Arizona State University.

The researchers state that childhood obesity and bullying are both pervasive public health problems. Childhood obesity in the USA has increased to epidemic proportions with 17% of 6 to 11 year olds estimated to be obese between the years 2003 and 2006. Additionally, obese children’s parents and guardians rate bullying as their top health concern – and previous studies have demonstrated that obese children who are bullied tend to be more susceptible to depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness.

The aim of this study was to establish the link between childhood obesity and being the victim of bullying in 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades.

There had been previous studies on obesity and bullying in children, however none of them controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status, race, social skills and academic achievement.

This study also looked at age range when bullying peaks – ages 6 to 9 years.

Researchers studied 821 children who were taking part 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 in 10 study sites around the USA.

The researchers evaluated the relationship between the child’s weight status and the chances of being bullied as reported by the child, mother, and teacher. The study accounted for grade level in school, 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.

They found that obese children had a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of gender, race, family socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills or academic achievement.

The authors conclude that being obese – by itself – raises the probability of being a victim of bullying. Lumeng adds that interventions to address bullying in schools are badly needed.

Lumeng said “Physicians who care for obese children should consider the role that being bullied is playing in the child’s well-being. 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.”

While the study did not look into interventions to address bullying in this population, the hope is that these results could prove useful in doing so, Lumeng says.

“Weight Status as a Predictor of Being Bullied in Third Through Sixth Grades”
Pediatrics May 2010
Click here to view abstract online.

Additional authors: Patrick Forrest, B.S., of the University of Michigan; Danielle P. Appugliese, M.P.H., of the Boston University School of Public Health; Niko Kaciroti, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan; Robert Corwyn, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas in Little Rock; and Robert Bradley, Ph.D., of the Arizona State University.

This work was supported in part by the American Heart Association Mid-west Affiliate Grant-in-Aid 0750206Z to Dr. Lumeng.

Source: University of Michigan Health System

Written by Christian Nordqvist