Can Teachers Be Bullies?

We have seen that overweight and obese kids are vulnerable to being bullied by normal-weight peers, and by their own parents — and along the way, as a sad footnote, we learned that even obese children are quite capable of turning into little bullies, and later, big scary bullies. A personal history of victimization is not an immunization against turning into a bully.

Maybe that is what happened to some of the alleged educators who populate horror stories like the one sent by a 17-year old to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website and mentioned in Overweight: What Kids Say.

Jim weighed over 200 pounds in high school. To say his self-confidence was destroyed is to put it mildly. Assaultive students “pinched the fat till it bruised” and even some teachers gave him a hard time. “By this point I had started trying to mutilate myself cutting myself with knives, stubbing fags on my arms etc…”

As Dr. Rebecca Puhl wrote,

Increasingly, research has documented youth reports of weight-based victimization from parents and family members, and even teachers.

The researchers involved in a 2013 study inquired about the “location, frequency, duration, and types” of bullying. They turned up plenty of adult culpability, with 27 percent of the kids identifying classroom teachers and 42 percent putting the finger on sports coaches.

In response to interviewer Nancy Matsumoto, Dr. Puhl offered seven suggestions to quell the occurrence of weight stigma in schools. Three of them directly concern the teaching staff:

Educators need to treat the importance of weight bias as seriously as other forms of bias in the school setting (e.g., race, religion, sexual orientation).

It’s important for educators to question their own assumptions and use of language about weight — be aware of disparaging comments about body weight, and challenge personal attitudes and assumptions about body weight.

Educate students and teachers about the complex and multiple causes of body weight. Show that genetic, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors all contribute to a person’s weight.

A more recent study, from earlier this year, reconfirms that bullying can result in “low self-esteem, social isolation, truancy, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” As we also already knew, weight-based teasing can mess with a young person’s head and lead to all kinds of deleterious results like compensatory overeating, binge eating and purging, self-hatred and self-harm.

As the old saying has it, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

In fact, weight-based teasing (WBT) is consistently one of the most common reasons cited for bullying among youth; over 90% of high school students have witnessed peers with overweight/obesity being teased due to their weight. Among youths with overweight/obesity, up to 60% report WBT by peers and family members. Others who engage in WBT include teachers, coaches, and healthcare providers.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Pervasive Problem of Weight-Based Bullying in Youth,”, 10/29/14
Source: “Bullying of Overweight and Obese Children,”, 06/29/13
Source: “Weight Stigma in Schools: Q&A with Dr. Rebecca M. Puhl,”, 09/26/13
Source: “Weight‐based teasing is associated with gain in BMI and fat mass among children and adolescents at‐risk for obesity: A longitudinal study,”, May 2019
Photo credit: Eddie~S on Visualhunt/CC BY

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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