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Childhood Obesity and Grade School Bullies

May 6, 2010


We learn from Megan Brooks, via Reuters Health, that overweight kids in grade school are prime targets for bullies. Actually, everybody pretty much knew that already, but not everyone has realized the pervasive extent of the problem. Brooks has been reporting on childhood obesity for years, among many other subjects. One of the authorities she had consulted for this article is the University of Michigan’s Dr. Julie C. Lumeng.

Dr. Lumeng is concerned that, among those who do know about this epidemic, too many people think it’s only about the sedentary lifestyle and the lack of self-control. Dr. Lumeng begs to differ, because the situation is more complex, and people really need to be better informed about the root causes of obesity no matter what the age group. In the case of elementary school children, Dr. Lumeng says,

In some schools, half the class may be overweight… so I really thought that maybe being obese really doesn’t result in being bullied as much anymore. I was wrong.

Notice the underlying implication in the doctor’s words. The assumption here is that bullying is usually focused on members of a despised minority. Common sense would suggest that when the potential targets are so numerous, they no longer constitute a minority. In other words, one might think that if overweight and obesity are so widespread, the animosity level could be expected to drop off. But it hasn’t, even though in some geographical areas, obesity has practically become the norm. This is the alarming thing.

Dr. Matthew Davis, a University of Michigan colleague, is the director of the National Poll on Children’s Health. He puts the average number of obese kids at one in five or one in six. As we mentioned, in some parts of the country the ratio is even more disturbing. If being fat becomes normal, the school children of America are in a lot of trouble.

Another finding mentioned by Dr. Lumeng is that bullies who go after fat kids are equal-opportunity harassers. Boy or girl, rich or poor — no matter what race — an overweight kid will be bullied.

Will the overweight kid tell? Of the 821 overweight and obese kids involved in this study, about 25 percent of them reported being bullied. However, the mothers of these same children, when asked, reported that closer to 45 percent of their kids were bullied. That’s almost twice the number of the self-reported victims of bullying. What’s going on here?

It might be that some of the kids in the study didn’t want to admit that they were victimized. This is where Dr. Pretlow’s method of information-gathering proves to be so useful. His Weigh2Rock website is set up so that kids can comment anonymously on their situations and feelings. Why is this so important? When they write anonymously to the website, they are more likely to tell the truth. It’s also a place where they can find answers to questions they are too shy or ashamed to ask their parents, teachers, or counselors. For instance, among the website’s resources are a page titled “Teasing at school.. ouch!” and another, titled “Dealing with Bullies,” that are stocked with advice.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obese kids more apt to be bullied, study confirms,” Reuters Health, 05/03/10
Source: “Weigh2Rock,” Weigh2Rock
Image by oldmaison, used under its Creative Commons license.


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