No Forgiveness for Fat

As we have seen, a very large percentage of overweight and obese children have experienced bullying, especially at school, which makes a certain amount of sense because after all, that is where children spend quite a lot of time in the company of others.

Dr. Rebecca Puhl has a very long title — Deputy Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at UConn — which comes as no surprise, because she knows more than anybody about weight bias, of which bullying is a large and ugly subcategory.

Dr. Puhl says,

At school, weight-based bullying is reported by adolescents to be among the most frequent forms of peer harassment. Parents similarly view weight-based bullying to be the most common form of bullying that youth face, irrespective of parents’ or their child’s weight. Further corroborating these findings are teachers who report a link between high body mass index (BMI) and victimization.

That sounds straightforward enough, but there is plenty of nuance to be found in the topic. For instance, a study of more than 821 children revealed that the reporting rate is uneven. If you ask mothers, about 44 percent of children are bullied. According to teachers, it’s about 34percent. But when it came to the kids themselves, only about 25 percent self-reported being bullied.

This is an interesting discrepancy. Are they afraid or ashamed to admit that other kids pick on them? Are mothers being just extra-sensitive and over-protective?

From that same study, we learned that amongst children with different ethnic and economic backgrounds, varying degrees of academic success, and a range of social relationship aptitude, victimization “is not moderated by any of the covariates.” To put it another way, which the report also did, “No protective factors were identified.”

For most kids in this situation, there is no forgiveness for fat. Even the lucky few who are naturally funny don’t catch a break. They are still teased and poked — they just get a few laughs to sweeten the bitter pill.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

The illustration at the top of this page quotes some lyrics from a Bob Dylan song, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Don’t worry about what the title might mean — after all, it was the Sixties. But the words describe the situation many overweight people, both children and adults, find themselves in. No matter what they do, somebody is not happy.

This is indicated by the titles of just two of Dr. Puhl’s many publications: “Weight-based victimization: bullying experiences of weight loss treatment-seeking youth” and “Stigma as a (Dis)incentive for Weight Loss and Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Pervasive Problem of Weight-Based Bullying in Youth,”, 10/29/14
Source: “Children who are obese, more likely to be bullied, regardless of other
factors,”, 05/03/10
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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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