Right now you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Duh!” I mean, we all remember being a kid, right? And fat kids got picked on. However, a study published in the June 2010 issue of Pediatrics reported that being overweight increased a child’s risk of being bullied by 63 percent. Other factors such as race, gender and family socioeconomic status did not matter when children were overweight.
How Obese Kids Are Targeted
According to Northern Illinois University, appearance has been cited as the most common reason kids are targeted by bullies. Children may experience verbal and emotional abuse such as teasing, name calling and rude comments when they eat lunch or participate in gym class. Some children also experience physical abuse, although this is less common.
Bullying can occur anywhere, including in the classroom and in children’s own neighborhood, but most often it occurs in schools in areas where there is less supervision. Lunch rooms, play grounds, hallways between classes and restrooms are common locations where bullies attack or harass obese children. Bullying also often occurs on the school bus.
Harm Caused by Bullying
Obese children targeted by bullies may become reluctant to participate in physical education classes or to play outside. They may also turn to food as a way to deal with stress or anxiety. Of course, these things just make weight loss more difficult and the risks of childhood obesity are well-documented.
Children that experience bullying on a regular basis may develop depression or anxiety disorders. They may even attempt or commit suicide, as recently happened with several teens at a high school in Mentor, Ohio.
Helping Obese Kids Targeted by Bullies
All schools should have comprehensive bully prevention programs. Parents can advocate for such a program if their child’s school does not already have one. Parents and educators should intervene immediately every time they witness bullying or whenever a child reports an incident of bullying. Bullies should receive services aimed at teaching them new behaviors and social skills and bullied children should receive counseling or supportive services to help them cope with the negative effects of the verbal and emotional abuse they have experienced.
Obese children should also receive education about nutrition, receive healthful meals and snacks and be encouraged to exercise or engage in pleasurable physical activity on a regular basis. However, adults should not blame obese children for being targeted by bullies and should not expect children to lose weight just to avoid being bullied. Losing weight is not the solution to bullying.
U.S. News and World Report. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2010/05/03/bullies-target-obese-kids.html. Bullies Target Obese Kids.
Northern Illinois University. http://www.cedu.niu.edu/~shumow/iit/bullybustertimes.pdf. The Bully Buster Times.