Childhood bullying is a huge problem. Childhood obesity is also a huge problem. A recent University of Michigan study on bullying and childhood obesity found that obese and overweight children are simply more likely to get bullied by their peers, regardless of any other factor.1
Yes, children are bullied because they are overweight
The study included 821 children in third, fifth, and sixth grades in a variety of communities and school systems. Even in communities where one in four children is obese, the stigma persists and children suffer the consequences.
Other factors controlled for in this study were academic performance, race, gender, and socio-economic factors. Across the board, obese and overweight children were simply more likely to be bullied than their peers of normal weight regardless of any other factors. In fact, the adjusted analysis found non-obese overweight children 1.1 times more likely, and obese children 1.6 times more likely to be bullied than their peers of normal weight.
Bullying victims face mental health risks
Bullying victims carry a high risk of developing feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies that don’t just stop at childhood. Compounding the health risks of childhood obesity with mental health risks is the perfect storm for a very troubled child. The hard truth is that children who are overweight are more likely to be bullied, and shedding pounds does deter the likelihood of being bullied.
While overweight and obese children and teens benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally from losing weight, these benefits are diminished if parents go about weight loss in the wrong way. This is a very delicate subject to broach, and a misstep could simply enhance the mental health risks bullying victims already face.
How can you help your child lose weight without risking their mental health or justifying the behavior of their tormentor?
Although losing weight will mitigate your child’s risk of falling victim to being bullied, DO NOT use this as the motivating factor for helping them to lose weight. The reality is, a healthy lifestyle promotes mental, emotional, and physical health regardless of whether or not childhood bullying is involved at all.
Before you break into the subject of weight loss, make sure your child knows that the way they are being treated is wrong. If someone is making them feel this way, it’s not because there is anything wrong with your child, it’s because the bully’s behavior is not okay. Do not reinforce the negative feelings children being bullied face, and do not reinforce that their weight justifies a bully’s behavior because it doesn’t. NO ONE deserves to be bullied. Period.
Focus on cultivating a healthy lifestyle for the family
Instead, focus on living a healthier life, and make it a family project. When everyone takes steps to live a more healthy, active lifestyle, your child will not feel singled out for their weight, and will be more likely to make and maintain the lifestyle changes necessary to shed the pounds and keep them off.
Eating right, getting regular exercise and being surrounded by supportive friends and family is the balance your child needs to get through this difficult time in their lives. Bolstering their sense of self-worth is what’s most important, and cultivating a healthy lifestyle – which includes compassionate and supportive people in it – is what your child needs to lose weight, be healthy, and address the issue of childhood bullying.
Teenage Weight Loss Success
Read about Matthew, who came to CardioMender, MD Weight Loss Specialists at the age of 12, overweight and subject to regular bullying. One of our teenage success stories, Matthew is shown here at 16 years old and no one pushes him around anymore. To read his testimonial and a follow-up from Dr. Barry Schiff, click here.
CardioMender, MD can help you and your family learn how to make lifestyle adjustments to facilitate living a healthier, happier life. We offer weight loss programs for children who have reached puberty.