Bullies May Be at Increased Risk for Anorexia, Bulimia

Young girl sadly playing with blocksBullying can cause a number of problems for victims, including depression, anxiety, physical health issues, and plummeting grades in school. A study published in the December issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests victims are not the only ones who are at increased risk for these issues. Researchers found a correlation between bullying others and experiencing eating issues such as anorexia and bulimia.

The Connection Between Bullying and Anorexia

To explore the link between bullying and eating issues, researchers pulled data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study. The study followed 1,420 participants ages 9 to 25 for two decades.

Researchers divided the children into four categories: children who solely bullied others, children who were sometimes bullies and sometimes victims, children who were only victims of bullying, and children who were never involved in bullying in any way.

Bullying victims were almost twice as likely to develop anorexia, with 11.2% showing symptoms of the eating disorder compared to just 5.6% of children not involved in bullying. Bulimia was even more common, with 27.9% of bullying victims experiencing symptoms compared to 17.6% of those who were not bullies or victims.

This result supports other research showing the potentially negative psychological effects of bullying. A correlation between bullying and eating issues also emerged. Children who were both bullies and victims had the highest rate (22.8%) of anorexia symptoms as well as the highest rates of binge eating (4.8%, compared to less than 1% of children not involved in bullying).

Among children who were solely bullies, eating issues were also prevalent, with a significant 30.8% of bullies experiencing symptoms of bulimia.

Why Might Bullying Lead to Eating Issues?

Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC, a Portland, Oregon, therapist who works with people in therapy on self-esteem and eating issues, is not surprised by these results.

“A troubled person with body image issues may turn to bullying to soothe feelings of self-loathing and shame,” she said. “A bully must be in a lot of emotional pain to feel comfortable assaulting other people physically or emotionally. No doubt the bully’s emotional problems include injured self-esteem, which is a risk factor for eating disorders. Concerns about one’s own body probably come first, and the projection of those concerns onto others in the form of bullying, second.”

Bullying may be inextricably linked to self-esteem, and both bullies and victims may need assistance managing self-esteem issues.


  1. Copeland, W. E., Bulik, C. M., Zucker, N., Wolke, D., Lereya, S. T., & Costello, E. J. (2015). Does childhood bullying predict eating disorder symptoms? A prospective, longitudinal analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders. doi:10.1002/eat.22459
  2. Study finds surprising links between bullying and eating disorders. (2015, November 16). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-11/dumc-sfs111615.php

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Jonie


    November 19th, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Maybe this all plays a part in the whole bullying thing, like they have never felt very good about themselves. They then not only turn this hatred of themselves onto others but then they punish themselves via disordered eating.

  • JoEllen


    November 20th, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    Wow what a cycle of hurt and pain for all of these families who are involved.

  • Laken


    November 20th, 2015 at 1:33 PM

    I worry a lot about the children who have become targets for bullies and the multiple ways that this could all play out in their lives. The impact is so great that even once the bullying is rectified, you do not know what other harm has been done and how long they may carry this pain around with them.
    I would be willing to guess that for most bullying victims the answer is a very long time.

  • Stefan


    November 21st, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    We quite often believe that bullies have no remorse for what they are doing, but this sort of proves otherwise. It may not be the remorse that they would be willing to verbally admit to out loud, but they are feeling bad about something in their lives or they wouldn’t engage in this kind of behavior or hurt another person in this way.

  • james


    November 23rd, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    Never too surprised when I read about bullies having health problems.
    Not too sympathetic about it but never surprised.
    What would you expect the health to be of a person who makes the most out of regularly tearing someone else down?
    Doesn’t seem to me at all like it would be the picture of good health
    physical or otherwise

  • Jasmine


    November 23rd, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    Wouldn’t you say that many times bullies are simply acting out on others what has been done to them?

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