At a young age children are taught to ignore taunts and are instructed to recite the old nursery rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” However, increasing evidence shows words can actually cut deep too, especially for adolescents who have obesity. Now many adolescents affected with obesity are becoming physical and mental targets for bullies.
Over the past 30 years alone childhood obesity rates have tripled and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of adolescents are affected by obesity. Increasing studies have shown overweight children are being targeted and body shamed for being different. In a recent national survey of overweight sixth graders, 24 percent of boys and 30 percent of the girls experienced daily teasing, bullying or rejection just because of their size (Stevelos). For girls, appearance and the lack of close friendships may expose them to victimization, while boys tend to be subject to physical bullying if they are physically weaker (Bjökqvist, 1994). However, the number of adolescents who have obesity and face bullying on a daily basis increases for high school students with 58 percent of boys and 63 percent of girls (Stevelos).
Although there are many types of bullying including verbal, physical, cyber bullying, and isolation —all seem to result in victims feeling insecure with low self-esteem, depression, social isolation, lack of social skills and the inability to defend themselves in confrontational situations (Stevelos). To make matters worse teens who are bullied tend to avoid school, and some even drop out of school all together. That could be the least of worries though, as some research has found that youth who have obesity and are victimized by their peers are two to three times more likely to engage in suicidal thoughts and behaviors (Puhl).
How can you combat bullying?
- Discuss bullying with child’s teacher as they may be able to intervene. However, if the bullying continues set up an appointment with your child’s school principal and ask for their help. Make sure to find out the schools policy on bullying and ask for available resources to help your child. Since a lot of schools have zero tolerance policies for bullying, it’s better to ask the school administration.
- Add exercise into your child’s routine. Sign your child up for a martial arts class or an activity that they have always wanted to participate in. This also lets your child bond with new peers who will be less likely to tease them and instead they will be thought of as a teammate.
- Encourage your child to join a self defense class, as it can help build self-esteem and confidence.
- Tell your child to bond closely with friends, as bullies will be less likely to single them out if they are in a group.
- Help your child make healthy lifestyle changes by joining the Medi-Weightloss® Adolescent Program. Our Adolescent Program helps teens learn how to track their fitness and nutritional habits, and our physicians provide an individualized plan. Since 2006, we have helped hundreds of adolescent patients achieve their weight loss goals.
- For additional information visit: https://www.mediweightloss.com/program/adolescent-program/.
- To find a location near you visit: https://www.mediweightloss.com/locations/.
Bjökqvist, K. (1994). Sex differences in physical, verbal and indirect aggression: a review of recent research. Sex Roles 30(3), 177-186. Retrieved from: http://www.vasa.abo.fi/svf/up/articles/sexdiff_a_review.PDF
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016, June 13). Obesity and overweight. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
Puhl, R. (n.d). Childhood obesity and stigma. Obesity Action Coalition. Retrieved from: http://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Childhood-Obesity-and-Stigma.pdf
Stevelos, J. (n.d). Bullying, Bullycide and childhood obesity. Obesity Action Coalition. Retrieved from: http://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Bullying-and-Bullycide.pdf