Bullying Prevention Month

There has been a National Bullying Prevention Center since 2006, and its website features a bold presentation of the organization’s objectives, of which there are nine. In slightly condensed form, they are: local action, education, facilitation for events, media savvy, influencing leaders, communication, resource management, inspiration, and the elimination of bullying. For the individual, a list is offered that includes 11 action possibilities; for the school or community, there are five more.

We are currently in the midst of National Bullying Prevention Month. Here, from mega-expert Rebecca Puhl, is the type of statistic that represents the problem:

For example, one study of 1555 adolescents found that 85% witnessed their overweight peers being teased and bullied during gym class.

What happens when kids are bullied, teased, and stigmatized for being overweight? They feel bad, depressed, and sometimes even suicidal. They make up for it by developing eating disorders. They flail around, doing crazy stunts like vomiting to try to control their weight; or go the other way, binge-eating themselves into great big messes. Dr. Pretlow says,

Binge snacking or binge eating is eating very large amounts quickly to cope with a substantial emotional pain or stress, such as bullying. Generally, the food eaten is any food that is available, and this typically occurs in secret. Binge eating is difficult to detect and treat.

Bullying comes in two major types, says psychologist Kristi Wilsman:

Children who are overweight or obese are also more likely to experience both relational (e.g., name calling, spreading rumors) and overt (e.g., physical aggression) bullying, causing an increase of stress in their everyday lives.

There doesn’t seem to be a way out, at least not in grade school. Adults get better at deflection sometimes, but for kids, there is very little they can do to make fatness forgivable to their schoolmates. The relationship between obesity and victimization, as another report puts it, “is not moderated by any of the covariates”:

Children who are obese are more likely to be bullied, regardless of a number of potential sociodemographic, social, and academic confounders. No protective factors were identified.

According to a University of Michigan study, obese kids are 65 percent more likely than their normal-weight peers to be bullied:

This pattern persisted even when the researchers took into account other factors that are associated with both obesity and being bullied, such as coming from a low-income family or doing poorly in school.

The researchers looked for “potential confounding and moderation,” in other words, traits or conditions that would be accepted by peers as mitigating circumstances that would let obese kids off the hook. Apparently, there are none. An exception to the universal misery has been noted:

[One study] identified important racial/ethnic differences in the relationship between changes in self-esteem and overweight in girls. In Hispanic and white girls, but not among black girls, those who were overweight experienced significant decreases in self-esteem compared with their non-obese counterparts…

[I]n this subgroup, obese children may not be motivated to lose weight by the promise of improved self-esteem.

In other words, African American girls seem less vulnerable than white or Hispanic girls to the psychological damage cause by fat-shaming. Whether this is because they start out with lower self-esteem, or for another reason, is an open question.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “October is National Bullying Prevention Month,” Pacer.org, undated
Source: “The Pervasive Problem of Weight-Based Bullying in Youth,” Medscape.com, 10/29/14
Source: “Development of the Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms — Childhood Obesity Model,” WKU.edu, August 2012
Source: “Children who are obese, more likely to be bullied, regardless of other factors,” NIH.gov, 05/03/10
Source: “Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies,” CNN.com, 05/03/10
Source: “Preventing Childhood Obesity – Evidence, Policy and Practice,” ResearchGate.net, January 2011
Photo credit: Jesper Sehested/PlusLexia.com on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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