Adolescents undergoing weight loss treatment are subject to high rates of all forms of bullying from both their peers and adults, according to a study published Dec. 24 in Pediatrics.
Questionnaires from students attending two weight loss treatment camps revealed that 64% of them had experienced bullying related to their weight from peers, friends, parents, teachers, and strangers, and the majority of those bullied (78%) said the bullying had lasted at least a year. Over a third (36%) reported it lasted at least 5 years.
The survey involved 321 adolescents, aged 14-18 years, enrolled in Camp Shane or Wellspring Camps, reported Dr. Rebecca Puhl and her associates at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Dr. Puhl’s team offered gift cards as incentives to 1,025 students enrolled at Camp Shane and 400 at Wellspring Academies to complete online self-report surveys e-mailed to all the campers. Of the 550 who started the survey, 321 gave consent and finished it, for a response rate of 27% (Pediatrics 2012 Dec. 24 [doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1106]).
Of the 64% of participants who reported being bullied for their weight, 92% had been bullied by peers, 70% by friends, 42% by P.E. teachers or coaches, 37% by their parents and 27% by teachers. In addition, 55% reported they had been bullied by an unknown person (possibly through cyberbullying or strangers). Nearly a third (30%) said they were bullied by peers often or very often.
Although 94% of those bullied said they had been bullied because of their weight (21% said often/very often for weight), other top reasons included their appearance (89%), their friends (74%), their clothes (70%), a dating partner (65%), the way they speak (52%), and their intelligence and/or school performance (50%).
Verbal teasing was the most common form of bullying, including being laughed at (88%), being teased (84%), being called names (83%), and being loudly insulted or the victim of nasty looks (75%). Relational, or social, bullying followed with 74%-82% reporting this form, depending on the particular types of social bullying (from isolation/exclusion to being the object of rumors).
The regression analysis revealed that participants were more likely to report weight-based bullying with increasing body weight, and students with two overweight parents were twice as likely to report it.
The researchers noted that the findings "highlight the need for providers to educate parents about weight-based bullying and to offer them appropriate strategies to address their child’s weight with sensitivity and support." Providers should also help adolescents targeted by bullying to develop coping strategies.
The study was funded by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and the authors had no disclosures.