Those are the findings of the study “Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades,” Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, is lead author of the study.
Child Obesity a Big Concern
Childhood obesity and bullying are both pervasive public health problems. Childhood obesity in the United States has risen to epidemic proportions with 17 percent of 6 to 11 year olds estimated to be obese between 2003 and 2006.
Parents of Obese Children 'Weigh in' Regarding Bullying
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.
Childhood Obesity Bullied Study
The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between childhood obesity and being bullied in third, fifth, and sixth grades. While studies on bullying and obesity in children have been conducted before, none had controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status, race, social skills and academic achievement.
The study is unique in that it specifically looks at the age range when bullying peaks – ages 6 to 9.
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 in 10 study sites around the country.
Researchers evaluated the relationship between the child’s weight status and the odds of being bullied as reported by the mother, teacher and child. The researchers accounted for grade level in school, race, gender, family income-to-needs ratio, racial and socioeconomic composition of the school, and child social skills and academic achievement.
Researchers found that obese children had higher odds of being bullied no matter their race, gender, family socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills or academic achievement.
The authors conclude that being obese, by itself, increases the likelihood of being a victim of bullying. Interventions to address bullying in schools are badly needed, Lumeng adds.
“Physicians who care for obese children should consider the role that being bullied is playing in the child’s well-being,” Lumeng says. “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.”