Weight, Bullying, and Health in Elementary-Aged Children

Obesity is a growing problem among youth throughout the world. Children who are overweight face challenges that their peers do not, and they are at risk for developing physical and psychological problems. Health issues that are contributed to obesity include diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and sleep disturbances. Taken alone these issues can impact psychological well-being. When added to peer taunting and bullying, these physical conditions can exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness. These issues all coalesce to affect socialization, academic performance, and well-being in a significantly negative way.

There is an abundant amount of research examining the effects of adolescent obesity on well-being and adult outcomes. But less is known about early childhood obesity. To explore this issue further, Amy van Grieken of the Department of Public Health at Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands recently led a study that looked at how weight, body mass index (BMI), and parental concern affected physical and psychological health in a sample of 2,372 children who were 5 years old. The children were evaluated for weight, BMI, bullying, self-esteem, and physical health at 5 and 7 years old. Grieken wanted to see how they adjusted over time, but also how weight trajectory influenced that adjustment.

The results revealed that children who were overweight and obese were more likely than average weight children to be victims of bullying, have low self-esteem, and perform poorly academically. Although their physical health was not poorer than average weight children, they visited the doctor more and parents exhibited more concern over weight-related health problems. Interestingly, underweight children also had overly concerned parents and more frequent visits to the doctor, but they did have higher rates of documented physical ailments. Of interest also was the fact that underweight children reported high levels of bullying.

When Grieken looked at weight trajectory, she found that as weight increased from age 5 to 7, so did psychosocial maladjustment and parental concern for overweight children. Grieken hopes that these findings will lead to more intense focus on psychological well-being for obese and overweight children. She added, “Appropriate counseling for teasing and insecure feelings should be offered in addition to, or as part of, interventions aiming at a positive change in weight status.”

Van Grieken, A., Renders, C.M., Wijtzes, A.I., Hirasing, R.A., Raat, H. (2013). Overweight, obesity and underweight is associated with adverse psychosocial and physical health outcomes among 7-year-old children: The ‘Be Active, Eat Right’ Study. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67383. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067383

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  • perry

    July 11th, 2013 at 11:47 PM

    think about it-how do five year olds tease and humiliate a peer for his weight?is it not us,the sensible adults,that teach these wrong things to these young minds?

    if we are to change all of this,first we must change ourselves.only then can we prevent the unnecessary victimization and bullying of those that have a problem to start with.they do not deserve the bullying and we must inculcate this in our children.

  • Jace

    July 12th, 2013 at 5:07 AM

    Isn’t it so sad that something over which children in particular have very little control over is the one thing that is sure to get them bullied at school? I am not saying that weight can’t be controlled, because of course it can be. But for kids? They are just going to eat what they are given and go by the model of behavior that their parents are establishing for them. They don’t know any better and won’t really know any better for a long time. If I know that this is a reason that my child is being bullied then I am going to do everything that I can to get thej into shape and get this one thing off the table. maybe this is the wrong approach, am not too sure. I know that we all should love one another as GOd’s children, but if this makes them a target then why do I want them to go around with this bullseye on their back that could easily be avoided?

  • jerry g

    July 13th, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    No child should have to be bullied, but no child should be dealt a horrible life sentence by parents who let him eat too much and get fat either. One we can control but not the other. Start with healthy eating and fitness habits at home for him to emulate and this should help to control the weight. As for the bullying? I say take immediate action early and often! Talk with the teachers and counselors, don’t let this go one and on. Parents feel like their hands are tied because there are these hours at school when most of us have no real clue about what is going on, but if you keep the lines of communication open between you and the school, and not try to remain oblivious abotu what happens to your child there sveen or eight hours every day, I think that you will be surprised how much you can learn and how much your involvement can make a huge difference.

  • G.N

    July 13th, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Did they not see if obese children were more prone to bullying others?Because I remember countless examples form my own childhood.Maybe it is the feeling of being powerful or it may have some psychological reason behind it,but this does happen and could give us a few pointers on how to handle this.

  • belinda

    July 15th, 2013 at 4:33 AM

    Even more harmful than bullying I think that we need to look at all of the ehalth issues that alllwoing our children to live at an unhealthy weight is causing them. There are, it seems, more overweight kids than there are healthy weight children these days, and I wounder just how much of a physical and emotional tool this will take on society as these children age and could potentially bring another generation up to face the same problems. I am not the healthies person in the world, but I do try to set a good example for my kids and I hope that they pick up on it. By the same token, they see how we treat others and that should be a clue to them how they are to treat others at school. The job of the parent and the family is multi layered, and we are ultimately responsible for the children that we raise.

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