Obese children likely to be bullied and suffer depression – anxiety

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A new study carried out by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development and published in the May 3rd issue of Paediatrics has found that children who are obese and in their first few years of school, are more likely to be bullied than other kids who are thinner, and that the bullying contributes to depression, anxiety and loneliness.

The results came from analysing data on 821 children from different schools in 10 study sites around the United States. The researchers identified a child as having been bullied if the parent, teacher or child reported it.

What the data revealed was that regardless of any other factors such as race, gender, social status or educational level, obese children were more likely to be bullied. “Being obese by itself seems to increase the likelihood of being a victim of bullying,” the researchers conclude. Also, children who are victims of bullying suffer more from depression, anxiety and isolation. The researchers are calling for interventions in schools as well as steps to address obesity at home.

However, on the other hand, another recent study, this time from researchers at the University of California who recognized that bullying can be very damaging to a child and lead to depression and anxiety, also found that if a child stands up to bullies, then it can help them to develop.

The researchers concluded that boys who stood up to bullies were judged as more socially competent and girls who did were more popular and admired by both teachers and pupils than those who did not stand up for themselves.

It’s important to note that this study didn’t suggest that it was a good thing to be bullied and nor did it focus specifically on the issue of obesity but on bullying in general.

Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, who led the UCLA study, said: “The children who are not disliked by anybody are the most well-adjusted, not surprisingly.

“However, among kids who are disliked by a peer, our research suggests it may be [helpful] for some young adolescents to return that peer’s dislike than to either not be aware or to continue liking that peer.”

Obesity and bullying are emotive topics and both can contribute to depression, anxiety and loneliness in children. It’s important that effective strategies are implemented to deal with both, not only to reduce suffering on a daily basis but also to help prevent mental health problems that could continue well into adulthood.

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