Overweight Children Are 63% More Likely to be Bullied

BlogHer Original Post

A study completed by the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan only confirmed what overweight children already know from first-hand experience: that you are 63% more likely to be the target of bullying if you're overweight in elementary school.

Boy sitting in school hallway

The findings from the study are to be published in the June issue of Pediatrics, but the facts were released today. The release comes after a barrage of recent media stories about childhood obesity including Michelle Obama's campaign to end obesity in a single generation. An earlier study of bullying and obesity appeared in Pediatrics five years ago. That study also found that overweight and obese children face "greater relative odds of being victims of aggression than normal-weight youth."

One impetus for the study was a question also being asked across the blogosphere: If obesity is an epidemic, will there come a point where there will be more children overweight than at a target weight or underweight, and how will that change affect bullying? This is the question that researcher Julie Lumeng asked herself. "Now that about half of kids are overweight or obese, it doesn't make you such an outlier anymore, so we thought maybe kids wouldn't be bullied for being overweight anymore."

But the findings blew that theory out of the water: Regardless of how commonplace childhood obesity is today, overweight children are still bullied as the outsider.

Another idea researchers have considered was whether obese children possessed a trait -- such as low self-esteem- -- that was the actual target of the bullying rather than the weight. Yet today's findings show that even children who possessed other traits that usually protect them from bullying -- such as great social skills or grades -- were bullied due to their weight.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan recently gave advice on reducing the emotional toll obesity takes on children, stating, "Living with obesity can dramatically effect a child's self-esteem, and in many cases these children can also become severely depressed."

Is it simply a case of the apple not falling far from the tree? After all, kids are learning from their parents who laugh at movies that have obese characters as the punchline a la Shallow Hal and Austin Powers. They pick up on what they hear such as Howard Stern calling Gabourey Sidibe, the actress from Precious, "the size of a planet." Mocking obesity is sadly part of American culture as much as obesity itself, and it's condoned. It's defended and justified all in the name of good health.

While the findings covered children up until sixth grade, one only needs to look as far as the next comic performing on Comedy Central (with the exception of Sarah Silverman) or tune into the commercials appearing on television and print ads to see that bullying and obesity extends well into adulthood.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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