The Complex Bully Web

A paper on bullying was published in Vol. 15 No. 5 of the journal Childhood Obesity. Of course, many pieces have been published about bullying, written by individuals and teams from a wide range of disciplines. These particular researchers, Kristie Rupp and Stephanie M. McCoy, spurned normal-weight kids. They were interested exclusively in the places occupied in the bullying spectrum by overweight and obese teens.

The difference here is that social scientists usually tend to lavish their attention on victims, and more particularly, on “pure” victims who, for the purpose of this discussion, we will envision as colored blue. Bullies — perpetrators — will be visualized as red in color, and they don’t get written about as much.

Now, we will go on to posit that some obese teens are a combination of bully and victim. The behavior trait that emerges as dominant in any given situation depends on many factors, like opportunity. To those who are a mixture of victim and bully, we assign the color purple. Again, these hybrids usually attract less scholarly attention than the unalloyed (blue) victims or the one-dimensional (red) perps.

The bullying/obesity study findings

Rupp and McCoy started out wondering whether the purple half-breeds experience social, emotional, and behavioral problems, like the pure-blue victims. And what about the rage-filled red bullies tribe? Do its members suffer from social, emotional, and behavioral problems also?

This study sought to assess the likelihood of an obese teen being a victim, a perpetrator, or a combination of both. It appears that obese adolescents have significantly high odds of being either a victim, or a combination of victim and perp — but NOT of being a perp only. The red team — the pure-bully team — tends to consist only of kids whose weight is in the normal range.

So the conclusion, saddening and perhaps surprising, is that bullies in the normal weight range are not the only ones who need to be stopped. Obese bullies also need to be dealt with, for their own good, as well as the good of their victims.

Measuring obesity

Of course nothing is ever even that simple, and the researchers explain all the tricky nuances. There are several areas where scholars experience philosophical differences. For instance, the Body Mass Index measurement is no longer universally considered the gold standard. The BMI classification is increasingly mistrusted even when reliably obtained.

But in this case, things are complicated by both self-reporting (by parents, not kids), and a lack of complete information. The parents reported height and weight, from which the subjects’ BMI numbers were derived. Also, these heights and weights were not available in the dataset, which could be viewed as a serious omission.

As if that were not bad enough, the reportage about bullying activity came from the parents — including evidence of their own children being the bullies — which some researchers might find quite problematic. This quotation is worth keeping in mind:

“Definitely true” and “somewhat true” were categorized as “yes;” a “not true” was recorded as a “no,” similar to previous literature utilizing the NSCH data set.

In other words, the original research utilized a three-point scale where parents could choose to define propositions as “definitely true, somewhat true, or not true.” For this paper’s purposes, however, the three answers were condensed to two.

For instance, to the original researchers’ interest in how easily a child made friends, the parent could answer, “no difficulty, a little difficulty, or a lot of difficulty.” But even that small amount of nuance was lost by further boiling the answers down to an easily handled either/or dichotomy.

The whole thing became very complicated, and anyone looking to form actionable conclusions from this research might want to pay particular attention to the basic logistics.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bullying Perpetration and Victimization among Adolescents with Overweight and Obesity in a Nationally Representative Sample,”, 06/17/19
Image by Pat Hartman

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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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