February 17, 2006

Obese boys, girls more likely to be bullied

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Obese grade-school children are
more likely to be the targets of bullying than their leaner
peers are, a UK study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 8,000 7-year-olds,
obese boys and girls were about 50 percent more likely to be
bullied over the next year than their normal-weight classmates.

On the other hand, obese boys were also more inclined to
describe themselves as bullies. Compared with normal-weight
boys, they were 66 percent more likely to physically or
verbally harass their peers -- presumably, the study authors
speculate, because of their dominant size.

In contrast, obese girls were not more likely to be
bullies, according to findings published in the Archives of
Disease in Childhood.

The findings suggest that children need to learn from an
early age that it's not okay to tease or bully over body size,
said lead author Lucy J. Griffiths, a researcher at the
Institute of Child Health in London.

Children as young as 4, she told Reuters Health, have been
shown to have negative feelings toward drawings of overweight
children their age. The "thin is good, fat is bad" view,
Griffiths said, appears to take shape in the early preschool

Other studies have reached conclusions similar to her
team's. One study of Canadian high school students found that
obese teenagers, male and female, were more likely to have been
bullied or to have bullied other kids. Those researchers
speculated that some overweight teens may have become
perpetrators in retaliation for being bullied at a younger age.

The fact that obese 8-year-old boys may be more likely to
bully other kids is something schools should be aware of,
Griffiths said.

The study included 8,210 children who were interviewed and
had physical exams at the ages of 7 and 8. Overall, children
who were obese at age 7 were at greater risk of being regularly
bullied by the age of 8.

Among obese boys, 36 percent were victims of "overt"
bullying -- meaning they were physically hurt, intimidated or
called names -- and they were 54 percent more likely than their
normal-weight peers to be bullied. The findings were similar
for girls, with 34 percent being frequent targets of the same
forms of bullying.

Fourteen percent of obese boys were self-described
perpetrators, versus 10 percent of normal-weight boys. Still,
Griffiths and her colleagues write, this finding should not
overshadow the fact that heavy boys were much more likely to be
victims than bullies.

So besides the long-term physical health consequences of
obesity, the researchers conclude, many overweight children may
also face the psychological and social effects of bullying.

"This study suggests that parents, school personnel, and
health professionals need to reduce the occurrence of this
behavior and the social marginalisation of obese children at an
early age," they write.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, February 2006.