Children in primary and secondary school who are bullied are almost twice as likely as non-bullied children to be overweight by the time they enter adulthood regardless of genetic factors, a new study says.
Researchers at King’s College London concluded their findings after combing over data of 2,000 children in England and Wales in 1994 from birth until the age of 18.
What they found was that 28 per cent of children in the study had been bullied in either primary school or secondary school (known as transitory bullying) while 13 per cent had been bullied in both levels (known as chronic bullying).
Those who experienced chronic bullying in school were 1.7 times more likely to be overweight as young adults than their non-bullied counterparts.
Bullied children also had a higher BMI and waist-hip ratio at the age of 18.
While researchers are reluctant to say if bullying is a direct link to weight gain in children, they say their findings do show promise that the link exists.
“Although we cannot definitively say that bullying victimization causes individuals to become overweight, ruling out alternative explanations – such as genetic liability – strengthens the likelihood that this is the case,” Jessie Baldwin, one of the study’s authors, said in a press release statement. “If the association is causal, preventing bullying could help to reduce the prevalence of overweight in the population.”
The study is a follow up to the team’s previous research which found that victims of childhood bullying in the 1960s were at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life and were more likely to be obese by the age of 45.
However, it was unclear if these long-term effects were present earlier in life, the report says.
This time around, the team wanted to examine bullying in a modern context but took into consideration the different environment in which the two generations lived. Today’s children, researchers say, live a more sedentary lifestyle, have increased access to junk foods and experience other forms of bullying that didn’t previously exist (like cyberbullying).
“Bullying is commonly associated with mental health problems, but there is little research examining the physical health of bullied children,” says Dr. Andrea Danese from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London in a statement. “Our study shows that bullied children are more likely to become overweight independent of their genetic liability and after experiencing victimization.”
Researchers believe that the results of the study show the importance of supporting bullied children as it may help prevent victims from becoming overweight. These interventions, they say, should include promoting exercise and healthy eating and should start early in life.