Teen Obesity and Substance Insights

A University of Connecticut study recently confirmed that teens — especially girls — who experience weight bullying are more likely to use alcohol or marijuana. The researchers did specify that although correlation is apparent, causation is not. The report says,

Frequent teasing about weight was associated with higher levels of overall alcohol use, binge drinking and marijuana use, though the study could not prove a cause-and-effect link.

Some would say it hardly seems fair to lump the two substances together as if they present equal health risks. New benefits are constantly being discovered in cannabis or its components, and no one has yet overdosed on it, while alcohol is destructive to several organs, and its ingestion alone — unrelated to any associated risky behavior — can be fatal.

But it is reasonable to infer that users of both substances are likely to seek escape from the negative emotions caused by teasing and bullying. One of the study co-authors, Christine McCauley Ohannessian, told the press that society as a whole places too much emphasis on looks and body image, which is hardly a startling insight. But she also noted a fact that is not usually so apparent — that “some of the most hurtful examples of weight-based teasing come from parents or siblings.”

Bullied and bullies alike

Another study brought to light something more surprising. Certain things seem to be known intuitively, but the problem with trusting those intuitions is that we may simply be indulging in bias, prejudice, stereotyping, etc. One of the truisms that seems to fall into the “Well, duh!” category is that teenagers who are defined as misusers of prescription opioids also tend to engage in other risky behaviors.

But obvious as this may seem, School of Medicine researchers from the University of Colorado did a massive study to really tie up the loose ends and put a lid on the matter.

Every couple of years, the Centers for Disease Control collects information via the massive Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. The answers to its questions comprise the mother lode of information about the use of nicotine, alcohol, and hard drugs, as well as the stats about diet and activity that go into “energy balance” findings.

The 2017 edition asked the participants about 22 different kinds of risky behavior. Using basic information gleaned from 15,000 high school kids from around the United States, it was determined that the 14% who admitted to misusing opioids were more likely to partake in all 22 categories of risk-taking. They drive like fools, carry guns, get into fights, and have heedless sex at shockingly young ages.

We mention this because it is related to the subject that Childhood Obesity News is currently exploring. As we have seen, bullying is an aggressive and hostile behavior practiced by not only children whose weight is within the normal range, but sometimes even by obese kids.

An article by Kristie Rupp and Stephanie M. McCoy that we have quoted about other topics also contains these words:

Adolescents who engage in bullying behavior are at a greater risk of experiencing externalizing and internalizing problems, including depressive symptoms, and are more likely to experience substance abuse problems in the future, thus highlighting the negative psychological consequences experienced by both bully perpetrators and bully victims.

Briefly, bullies are often substance abusers, just like their victims. Although they usually get away with being obnoxious, bullies also are liable to engage in fights. When bullies go too far, they might find themselves being shot at or pushed in front of trains. In other words, bullying is, in and of itself, a risky behavior.

Maybe the world would be a better place if bullies and the targets they want to torment just sat down together and passed around a joint.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Being Bullied About Weight May Raise Risk of Drug Use,” HealthDay.com, 03/03/20
Source: “Study: Misusing prescription opioids linked to other risky behaviors,” AAPPublications.org, 01/06/20
Source: “Bullying Perpetration and Victimization among Adolescents with Overweight and Obesity in a Nationally Representative Sample,” LiebertPub.com, 06/17/19
Image by Escola São José Guaramirim/Flickr

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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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