Dark Secrets of the Bullying Game

Childhood Obesity News has talked about peer bullying, both in person and via the Internet. The subject becomes even more painful with a problem expressed in a headline from Yale’s Rudd Center: “Youth Seeking Weight Loss Treatment Report Bullying by Those They Trust.”

A report in the journal Pediatrics revealed that kids who are trying to do the right thing, the life-saving thing, are sometimes victimized by the very people who should be most sympathetic to their struggles and the most supportive of their goals. Difficult as it is to imagine, even young people who are making the attempt to improve are often subject to criticism and derision.

According to a survey of 361 teens attending weight-loss camps, the picture is grim. Megan Orciari wrote for Yale News,

Although peers and friends were the most commonly reported perpetrators of teasing and bullying, high percentages of adolescents also reported being teased and bullied about their weight by trusted adults…

Thirty-seven percent reported being teased and bullied about their size, by their own parents. The idea that more than one-third of parents give their overweight kids a hard time, even when they try to do better, is very discouraging.

What can parents do?

It has been shown many times that good familial relationships help kids avoid obesity. Not surprisingly, the strength and nature of these bonds also influence the child’s likelihood of becoming a bully. A study at Southwestern Medical Center utilized data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, where information on relationships between 45,000 parents and their teenage children reposed.

As it turns out, parents have quite a lot to do with whether their children engage in bullying behavior, or not. When parents interact with kids often, having conversations about the world and ideas rather than just standard “do this and don’t do that” talk, their kids turn out 40 percent less likely to be bullies.

Which teens were as much as three times as likely to be bullies? The ones whose parents acted bothered, annoyed, irritated with them, and especially the ones whose parents manifested a lot of anger. Once again, this demonstrates to parents the usefulness of the saying, “Be the change that you want to see.”

Modeling is the operative concept here. Children will tend to treat others the way they have been treated. Moreover, being a victim does not necessarily supply the empathy needed to prevent a person from becoming a victimizer.

Journalist Anne Harding’s reportage included a disheartening paragraph:

Interestingly, previous studies have suggested that obese children are more likely to bully others, in addition to being the victims of bullying. One possible explanation for this […] is that children who have difficulty staying calm and controlling their impulses to lash out at others may also have a hard time regulating their eating, and may eat for emotional reasons rather than out of hunger.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Youth Seeking Weight Loss Treatment Report Bullying by Those They Trust,” Yale.edu, 12/24/12
Source: “Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies,” CNN.com, 05/03/10
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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.
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Presentations

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.

Food & Health Resources