Bullying is a major social concern and has been recognized to include various forms of verbal, emotional, and physical teasing, aggression, and threat-making. The basis for bullying encompasses a broad range of cultural, religious, racial, gender-related, and sexual contexts, including having non-conforming sexual orientations or being of a racial or ethnic minority. In fact, nearly anything that makes someone seem “different” from the socially accepted norm can be a cause for bullying. Regardless of the reason someone is bullied, the negative effects of bullying are the same for everyone. Individuals who are bullied, especially young people, are at increased risk for a number of negative psychological outcomes. They are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, stress, fear, self-hatred, shame, suicidal ideation, and drug or alcohol problems than their non-bullied peers.
When the bullying is based on obesity or overweight status, the outcomes can include disturbed eating, extreme diet and weight control methods, anorexia, and bulimia. Because little is known about the long-term effects of weight-related bullying, Virginia M. Quick of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently led a study that looked at how early childhood and adolescent weight-related bullying affected BMI, eating problems, and overall psychological well-being in young adult women. Quick interviewed 1,533 women between the ages of 18 and 26 and asked them to report their weight statuses when they were six, 12 and 16 years old. She also asked them about any weight-related bullying they experienced and then assessed their current eating patterns and BMI.
Quick found that almost 50% of the women in her study were victims of weight-related bullying when they were younger. These women went on to develop higher rates of eating problems, higher overall BMI and lower body satisfaction than the women who did not get teased about their weight. In sum, the results show that weight-related bullying led to emotional distress that prompted negative eating behaviors, ultimately resulting in higher BMI in adulthood. This was even more pronounced in the African-American women in the study. Quick hopes that these findings prompt educators, parents, and medical professionals to actively participate in making weight-related teasing unacceptable. She added, “Given the well-documented deleterious physical and emotional damage caused by obesity and the epidemic of childhood obesity, the time to act is now.”
Quick, Virginia M., Rita McWilliams, and Carol Byrd-Bredbenner. Fatty, fatty, two-by-four: weight-teasing history and disturbed eating in young adult women. American Journal of Public Health 103.3 (2013): 508-15. Print.
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