According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, almost one-quarter of students in the U.S. suffer from bullying during the school year. It’s particularly bad among 12-18 year olds, as the rate rises to as much as 35% of students involved in some form of bullying. Multiple studies have proven that bullying can have harmful effects: sleep difficulties, poor school adjustment, anxieties, depression, substance abuse, academic problems, violent behavior, and mental and behavioral health problems.
Here’s a new problem to add to the list: obesity. According to a 2016 study out of King’s College London, children who suffer bullying during their school years have a significantly higher chance of gaining excess weight during their young adult years.
The researchers examined data for over 2,000 English and Welsh children, gathered from birth until they reached the age of 18. The data provided insights into bullying victimization in both primary and secondary school. At the age of 18, the children had their physical measurements taken, including waist-hip-ratio and BMI.
The study found a terrifying result: children who suffered bullying during their primary and secondary school years had a 29% chance of being overweight (as indicated by a high BMI and hip-waist-ratio). The children who had not been bullied at school were only 20% likely to be overweight. That means bullied children were 1.7 times more likely to become obese during their young adult years.
Here’s the kicker: the bullied children were not more likely to be overweight at the time of their victimization. Bullying occurred regardless of the children’s weight or physical condition. However, their physical condition worsened as a result of the bullying.
This is a pretty sad indictment of human behavior. Bullying is known to contribute to mental, emotional, and behavioral problems, and now it turns out that it can also be responsible for serious physical problems as well. There is a very clear causal relationship between bullying and obesity, which makes it even more important for parents and educators to take steps to a) eradicate bully, both online and in school; and b) support the bullied children.
Interventions in diet, exercise, and mental health may be a good idea to help keep the children healthy despite the bullying.
1. Jessie R. Baldwin, Louise Arseneault, Candice Odgers, Daniel W. Belsky, Timothy Matthews, Antony Ambler, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, Andrea Danese. “Childhood Bullying Victimization and Overweight in Young Adulthood“. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2016; 78 (9): 1094 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000388.