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Obesity and Bullying – What Is the Connection?

Discover why obese kids are bullied and why they bully others


Updated August 04, 2013

Obesity and Bullying – What Is the Connection?

The connection between obesity and bullying is complex. For years, people assumed that kids were bullied because they were obese. But what researchers have found is that obese children may also be perpetrating bullying. And some are even caught in the bully-victim cycle. Meanwhile, other researchers are wondering if bullying contributes to childhood obesity.

Why Are Obese Kids Targeted?

While there are a lot of different reasons why bullies target other kids, for obese children, they are almost always bullied because of the way they look. In fact, studies have shown that obese children are more likely to be targeted by bullies than their normal-weight peers.

Additionally, obese children are bullied more often than normal-weight children even when they have the traits that discourage bullying such having good social skills and doing well academically. For overweight children, those skills seem to provide very little buffering for bullying. In fact, research has shown that weight is often at the top of the list when bullies are choosing a target.

Furthermore, some researchers speculate that obese children often struggle with low self-esteem and have fewer friends than their normal-weight peers, which also means they are more likely to be targeted. Meanwhile, one study found that kids who considered themselves overweight were not only bullied but also reported feeling lonely, sad, fearful and even wimpy.

Lastly, bullying because of weight may be related to weight discrimination as well as how adults and the media portray weight and obesity. For instance, kids are bombarded with negative comments about weight not only from listening to adults but also from commercials and television programs. These messages often revolve around controlling weight and how the size you are right now regardless of what that is, is not perfect.

Why Do Obese Kids Bully?

Most researchers suspect that obese children bully others because they are projecting the way they are treated onto other children. Meanwhile, other researchers speculate that obese children use their size to their advantage and bully other kids because they are bigger and often can wield more power over their victims.

Another reason obese kids may choose to bully is because of poor impulse control. For instance, if they have trouble controlling their impulse to eat, they may also struggle to control their impulse to lash out at others.

Does Bullying Lead to Obesity?

Some doctors are questioning whether bullying happens because a child is already obese or if bullying can lead to obesity. Most would say that it depends. In some cases, kids are obese first and then picked on.

Meanwhile, in other situations kids may become obese as a result of being bullied. In these situations, kids turn to food when they are being bullied as a way to medicate or comfort themselves. And if the bullying is ongoing with little or no intervention, a massive weight gain can take place.

But regardless of what came first, the bullying or the obesity, it is clear that obese children are caught in a vicious cycle of self-destructive behavior. Not only are they inactive and sad but they also may use eating as gratification.

The key to stopping the cycle is to help them identify their strengths and then get them involved and active in extracurricular activities. If you focus only on their weight, they are not going to build confidence. You have to first concentrate on building their self-esteem and motivating them to get active. Once you do that, the weight will become less of an issue.

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