Obese teens both bullies and victims: study

U.S. teens seeking weight-loss surgery have a startling number of health problems that used to be seen only in adults, according to a major government-funded study.
U.S. teens seeking weight-loss surgery have a startling number of health problems that used to be seen only in adults, according to a major government-funded study.

TORONTO Parents may think obese teens are victims of bullying in the schoolyard, but a new Canadian study examining how weight issues effect youth reveals that it’s also overweight teens who are bullying their peers.

Queen’s University researchers looked at 1,738 students who attended 16 Ontario high schools between 2006 and 2007 for their study. The students were respondents in an international Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey that asked for their weight and height information as well as their encounters with bullying.

The survey asked children if they faced physical bullying – such as kicking, pushing, shoving or even locking other students indoors – and relational bullying, which refers to excluding, ignoring or spreading rumours about a peer.

Results showed that obese boys were two times more likely to be victims of physical bullying than their slimmer counterparts while obese girls were 1.32 times more likely to face physical fights.

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Turns out, obese girls were also 1.52 times more likely to push around their peers. Overweight boys were 1.71 times more likely to be physical bully.

But obese boys were 2.11 times more likely to face taunting and teasing while they were also 2.11 times more likely to face this relational bullying. Girls showed a similar trend: they were 1.76 times more likely to be shunned by peers but also three times more likely to dish out relational bullying.

Study co-author Atif Kukaswadia said the team was surprised that obese teenage women were more likely to be perpetrators of bullying.

“While we hypothesized that for males increased size may ‘help’ them be perpetrators of physical bullying as they could dominate peers, being a large female would not confer any advantage in the case of relational bullying,” he told Global News.

“They’re different and due to negative views on weight, they are picked on,” he said.

About 17 per cent of children in Canada are overweight while nine per cent are obese, according to Statistics Canada.

Canada’s Childhood Obesity Foundation says that obesity rates in children have almost tripled in the past 25 years, with about 26 per cent of the nation’s 2 to 17 year olds facing weight issues or obesity.

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The study authors say their findings add to other cross-sectional studies that suggest childhood obesity leads to many social consequences.

“Our study findings are important as increased involvement in bullying is associated with other forms of interpersonal violence as children grow and develop,” the authors write.

Kukaswadia said the effects of bullying are “far reaching.”
“There are far reaching consequences; victims may suffer from depression and anxiety among other health outcomes, while perpetrators are more likely to be aggressive as they grow up,” he said.

Anti-bullying interventions at school have been effective in Canada but the focus should shift to using techniques similar to those used to combat racism and gender discrimination, the study notes.

The study’s complete findings were published in Obesity Facts, which is part of The European Journal of Obesity.