Childhood obesity is a major healthcare concern throughout the nation. Currently 30% of California children are overweight or obese. Obesity and overweight entail a number of health consequences. A new study has highlighted yet another consequence of being overweight as a child: bullying. The findings were published online on August 25 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers in The Netherlands.
The study authors note that being overweight is a potential risk factor for peer victimization in late childhood and adolescence. Therefore, they conducted a study that assessed the association between body mass index (BMI) in early elementary school and different bullying involvement roles (uninvolved, bully, victim, and bully–victim) as reported by teachers and the children themselves. The study group comprised 4,364 schoolchildren (average age: 6.2 years) in The Netherlands. Bully–victim referred to children who were both bullies and victims. Their BMI was measured and teacher-reported bullying was recorded. In a subgroup of 1,327 children, a peer reporting method was used to obtain bullying incidents.
The investigators found that in both teacher- and child-reported bullying incidents, a higher BMI was associated with more victimization and more bullying perpetration. For example, a 1-point increase in BMI was associated with a 0.05 increase on the standardized teacher-reported victimization score. Combining the victimization and bullying scores into different types of bullying involvement revealed that children who were obese, but not children who were overweight, had a significantly higher risk to be a bully–victim than normal-weight children.
The authors concluded that at school entry, a high BMI was a risk factor related to victimization and bullying perpetration, with obese children particularly likely to be victims and aggressors. The findings were consistent for both teacher and child reports of bullying; thus, supporting the validity of their findings. They suggested that obesity possibly triggers peer problems; however, the association may also reflect a common underlying cause that makes obese children vulnerable to bullying involvement.