A recent study shows that obese children in grades three through six are more likely to be bullied than children of a normal weight. Teen suicide due to bullying — an absolutely horrifying thought — has tragically been in the news a great deal, raising awareness of the psychological impact of constant harassment. Now we discover that that it begins at an early age, with overweight children as the primary target.
Based on my own memories, I didn’t find this to be news. However, I had assumed, or maybe naively hoped, that things had changed. Not so, as researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed over 800 children ages eight to 11. In the third grade, 15 percent of the children were overweight and 17 percent were obese. A quarter of the students admitted to being bullied; with 45 percent of the mothers reporting that her child had been bullied for his or her weight. The odds of being bullied were 63 percent higher for children who were obese than their classmates of a normal weight, and bullies did not discriminate based on gender or economic status. Overweight boys were just as likely as girls to be bullied, and even those with good social skills weren’t spared.
“I thought maybe (good social skills) would protect obese kids from being bullied. But no matter how we ran and re-ran the analysis, the link between being obese and being bullied remained,” said Dr. Julie Lumeng, lead researcher. She is concerned that the perception surrounding obesity is that it’s caused by a lack of exercise and overeating when the underlying condition is often driven by other factors. “Many times, children who are not good at dealing with their emotions become emotional eaters,” she explained, noting, “we really need to work on changing this view of what causes obesity.”
My first response to this story was sadness, bringing me back to my own early days. The study suggested that we not only need to encourage healthy eating habits for young children, but also need to set a good example by refraining from making negative comments about people who are overweight. Children of course, are mirrors of us and they pick up our attitude, which results in bullying behavior. In effect, we indirectly teach our children to bully.
However, there is a bigger picture. We need to remember that each and every person has habits about which he or she is not proud. The difference is that if over-eating is the habit, it cannot be hidden. It is on display for all to view.
Smoke too much but hide well? No one knows. Have trouble with anger management but it doesn’t leak into public? We won’t judge you. Yet, eat too many fries and not exercise enough, and everyone’s got a comment. Seems to me that if we each paid a little more attention to our own issues, we’d all be happier and healthier.
Maybe, when I’ve achieved complete perfection, I can judge others. However, I don’t see that happening soon.