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Health & Parenting

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Obese Kids Often Bullied

Study Shows Bullied Obese Kids Suffer More Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 3, 2010 -- Obese children in the early grades of school are more likely to be bullied than thinner kids, contributing to depression, anxiety, and loneliness, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed data on 821 children participating in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The participating children attended school at one of 10 study sites located in the U.S.

Reports of a child being bullied were provided by the child, teacher, or mother during study visits in third, fifth, and sixth grades. BMI was calculated from height and weight measurements at the same grade levels. In third grade, 50% of pupils studied were male, 81% white, 17% obese, and 15% overweight.

The conclusions were straightforward:

  • Obese children were more likely to be bullied regardless of a number of potential sociodemographic, social, or academic differences.
  • No protective factors were found.
  • It’s important to find ways to reduce bullying, which has risen to epidemic proportions.

Researchers say that:

  • 17% of 6- to 11-year-olds in the U.S. were estimated to be obese between 2003 and 2006.
  • Parents rate bullying as their top health concern.
  • Obese kids who are bullied suffer more depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

The researchers say it’s important to make sure that obesity is the main reason kids are being bullied. The child’s race and being members of poorer families were also analyzed as potential contributing factors, along with weak social skills and low academic achievement. The study found that obese 8- to-11-year-old kids were more likely to be bullied than children who weren’t overweight, regardless of sex, race, or other factors.

Researchers say they found kids were bullied whether they were rich or poor, made better or worse grades, and that race didn't seem to be a factor.

“Being obese by itself seems to increase the likelihood of being a victim of bullying,” the researchers conclude.

Other conclusions:

  • Interventions in schools are badly needed, as are steps to address obesity at home and elsewhere.
  • Messages need to be created that are aimed at reducing the premium placed on thinness in society and the negative stereotypes of those who are overweight or obese.

The study is published in the May 3 issue of Pediatrics.

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