Cyberbullying and What to Do About It

A while back, the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine published the results of a research team’s scrutiny of over 1.3 million messages from various kinds of social media. These fell into two main categories: short-form entries on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube; and longer posts found in blogs and forum discussions:

The results showed a large number of negative stereotypes, “fat” jokes, self-deprecating humor and alienation of overweight and obese people… The researchers were also alarmed by the significant amount of verbal aggression against overweight and obese people, particularly women.

Well over half of people with eating disorders assign at least partial blame to bullying, of which cyberbullying makes up a considerable portion. Electronic rudeness to grownups is bad enough, but immense numbers of young people are influenced and hurt by deliberate cruelty online.

Much of this activity remains unreported to authorities. Jamie Lee Peterson wrote,

It is estimated nine out of 10 children do not tell their parents or an adult when something mean or hurtful happens to them online. Some youth are afraid that they will lose their Internet or phone privileges, or that the bullying will get worse.

The study referenced in the first paragraph found that blogs and forums are less likely to be toxic, and can be excellent sources of information and advice about healthful weight maintenance. Much of their content is what many professionals denigrate as “anecdotal evidence,” although ignoring these information sources is probably short-sighted and counterproductive.

Wen-ying Sylvia Chou of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, who authored the study, said that on the whole, “blogs and forums are safe online havens that provide support against weight bias.”

Peterson, who has often worked with the illustrious Dr. Rebecca Puhl, offers advice for parents about cyberbullying in six different areas, including working with schools to ensure that kids get good information about web privacy and safety. Also in the public realm, we need to support policy that reins in the potential for damage, and make sure the legal system recognizes the threat posed by cyberbullying.

To parents, Peterson recommends these measures:

Monitoring — Regulate the time and access your child has to the Internet. Set boundaries on usage and the types of Web sites or services your child is allowed to visit.

Familiarizing — Parents should try to understand cyber media and Internet safety. Share this information with your child to help them understand potential dangers.

Accountability — Ask your child about Web sites, activities and communications he/she accesses. Set-up your own pages to understand these sites and keep your child accountable.

Chelsea Kronengold of the National Eating Disorders Association offers channels through which motivated people can take useful action to resist bullying. She wrote an inspiring article that highlights “three instances where people turned body-shaming and cyberbullying into calls of action and body-activism.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Obese Are Frequent Targets for Cyberbullies,”, 10/03/14
Source: “From the Schoolyard to Your Yard: Cyber-bullying Brings Victimization Home,”, undated
Source: “Body-Shaming + Cyberbullying,”, 2015
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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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