Weight victimization: Bullying often comes from parents, study says

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 6:00 a.m. MST

Adults — including parents, coaches and teachers — are the most common perpetrators when it comes to bullying teens about weight, after peers and friends, according to a recent study.

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Adults — including parents, coaches and teachers — are the most common perpetrators when it comes to bullying teens about weight, after peers and friends, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.

The study found that the risk of the bullying increased along with body weight, and 78 percent of those surveyed reported having endured it for a year; 36 percent reported enduring bullying and teasing for five years.

"What was surprising was the number of teenagers who said they have experienced what amounts to bullying at the hands of trusted adults, including coaches and gym teachers (42 percent) and, most disturbingly, parents (37 percent)," a New York Times article said on the issue.

More than 350 adolescents were surveyed from two national weight loss camps for the research, which looked into weight-based victimization — something the researchers believe has not been very comprehensively examined with youth.

“What we see most often from parents is teasing in the form of verbal comments,” said lead study author Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. "There still remains the widespread perception that a little stigma can be a good thing, that it might motivate weight loss," she said, according to the Times article.

However, research has shown that "even well-intentioned commentary from parents and other adults can trigger ... dangerous weight-control practices, and depression," the article said.

Another form of bullying becoming more clear to researchers is that of children with food allergies. A total of 31.5 percent of children and 24.7 percent of their parents reported that the child had been bullied specifically because of food allergies, in a study done at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"Parents of non-allergic kids could benefit from a little education to understand how severe some food allergies can be — to the point that a child may have a life-threatening reaction simply by touching a doorknob containing trace amounts of the food," said a Boston Globe article on the studies.

"A growing body of research suggests how detrimental bullying can be, raising a teen’s likelihood for depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and, in rare cases, violent acts," the article said. "Psychologists have found that relentless teasing that occurs over years can cause children to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder that lingers well into adulthood."

However detrimental bullying is, and how well-educated society is about its many consequences, "attention being paid to bullying is still very new," said Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital, according to the Globe.

Parents have a role to play, and can often be very helpful when it comes to alerting officials and teachers about bullying, as well as teaching their children about obesity being another health condition some children struggle with, he said.

Mandy Morgan is an enterprise intern for the Deseret News, reporting on values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.

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