We know that adolescent bullying can have long-lasting effects on a child psychologically, but a new study in the journal Pediatric Obesity reveals that it can also negatively impact their health in the long run.
Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), along with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health (NICHD), wanted to find out how weight-based teasing and might affect body mass index (BMI) and fat mass in kids over time.
Dr. Jack Yanovski of NICHD and his colleagues studied 110 adolescent participants — 55 percent female and 45 percent male — for up to a 15-year period of time, between July 1996 and July 2009, asking them to check-in with researchers annually. Upon enrollment in the study, the volunteers, whose average age was about 12-years-older, were already either overweight or obese, or considered high risk for adult obesity for having overweight parents.
Initially, participants completed a survey which asked them to report how often they experience weight-based teasing, with “1” being “never” and “5” being “often.” Their height, weight, body fat mass and BMI were also recorded, and updated each year along with a fresh questionnaire.
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Even after adjusting for baseline BMI and fat mass, scientists found that participants who reported being teased the most gained 33 percent more weight and 91 percent more fat mass per year than those who avoided derision.
“What’s important about these findings is that they suggest that weight-based teasing places kids at risk for excess weight and fat gain over the course of their development,” says Dr. Natasha Schvey, the study’s first author and psychology professor at USU. “It’s important to educate the public that not only does teasing not motivate healthy behaviors, but that it actually seems to do just the opposite.”
Researchers can’t confirm an exact reason for the association, but believe it could be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. A kid who is teased for their weight may experience more self-esteem issues, which could encourage unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge eating.
Adds Schvey, “Based on these findings, a possible next step would be to develop clinical pediatric interventions that could help reduce the harmful effects of weight-based teasing.”