Surrounds Fat Teens, Study Finds
by Lindsey Tanner, Contra Costa Times, May 3, 2004
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adolescents are more likely than normal-weight children to be
victims and perpetrators of bullying, a study found, bolstering
evidence that being fat endangers emotional as well as physical
The results in a study of 5,749 Canadian youngsters echo data
from British research and follow a U.S. study published last
year in which obese children rated their quality of life as low
as young cancer patients' because of teasing and weight-related
While not surprising given the stigma of being overweight, the
new findings underscore the importance of enlisting teachers and
schools in the fight to prevent and treat obesity in children,
said lead author Ian Janssen, an obesity researcher at Queens
University in Kingston, Ontario.
"Anybody's who's ever been on a playground would know" that
overweight children are among those who get picked on, Janssen
said, adding that in some cases, that may lead the youngsters to
become bullies themselves.
The study appears in the May edition of Pediatrics, released
Janssen said obesity rates in Canadian children tripled from the
1980s to 1990s and show no signs of slowing down, similar to
rising rates in other developed nations and in the United
States, where 15 percent of school-aged youngsters are obese and
are increasingly plagued by related health problems.
The toll on emotional health is just as worrisome, the
"The social and psychological ramifications induced by the
bullying-victimization process may hinder the social development
of overweight and obese youth, because adolescents are extremely
reliant on peers for social support, identity and self-esteem,"
the researchers said.
Their data is based on a national survey of Canadian youngsters,
ages 11 to 16, conducted in 2002.
Among normal-weight youngsters, almost 11 percent said they were
victims of bullying, compared with 14 percent of overweight
youngsters and nearly 19 percent of obese youngsters.
About 8 percent of normal-weight children said they were
perpetrators, compared with 11 percent of overweight youngsters
and 9 percent of the obese children.
Obese boys and girls were more than two times more likely than
normal-weight youngsters to be victims of "relational" bullying
-- being intentionally left out of social activities.
Obese girls were about twice as likely to be physically bullied
on a weekly basis than normal-weight girls; among obese boys the
risk was slightly lower but still substantially higher than for
Obese girls were more than five times more likely than
normal-weight girls to physically bully other youngsters at
least once weekly.
Among boys, the risk of being physically aggressive was only
slightly increased, but they were more than twice as likely to
make fun of others and spread lies and rumors than normal-weight
Cleveland child psychologist Sylvia Rimm, author of "Rescuing
the Emotional Lives of Overweight Children," said many schools
with anti-bullying programs don't specifically address
Rimm said reducing bullying could help youngsters overcome their
weight problems. Bullying perpetuates those problems because it
isolates them, and "the only thing left for overweight kids is
food and television," she said.
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