UCL News


Obese boys, girls more likely to be bullied

18 February 2006

Obese grade-school children are more likely to be the targets of bullying than their leaner peers are, a UK study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 8,000 7-year-olds, obese boys and girls were about 50% more likely to be bullied over the next year than their normal-weight classmates. On the other hand, obese boys were also more inclined to describe themselves as bullies. …

Compared with normal-weight boys, they were 66% more likely to physically or verbally harass their peers - presumably, the study authors speculate, because of their dominant size. In contrast, obese girls were not more likely to be bullies, according to findings published in the 'Archives of Disease in Childhood'. The findings suggest that children need to learn from an early age that it's not okay to tease or bully over body size, said lead author Dr Lucy J Griffiths [UCL Institute of Child Health]. Children as young as four-years-old, she pointed out, have been shown to have negative feelings toward drawings of overweight children of their age. The "thin is good, fat is bad" view, Griffiths said, appears to take shape in the early pre-school years, which are the most impressionable years. …

The fact that obese 8-year-old boys may be more likely to bully other kids is something schools should be aware of, Dr Griffiths said. …

Overall, children who were obese at age 7 were at greater risk of being regularly bullied by the age of 8. Among obese boys, 36% were victims of 'overt' bullying - meaning they were physically hurt, intimidated or called names - and they were 54% more likely than their normal-weight peers to be bullied.

The findings were similar for girls, with 34% being frequent targets of the same forms of bullying. Fourteen per cent of obese boys were self-described perpetrators, versus 10% of normal-weight boys. Still, Dr Griffiths and her colleagues write, this finding should not overshadow the fact that heavy boys were much more likely to be victims than bullies.

So, besides the long-term physical health consequences of obesity, the researchers conclude, many overweight children may also face the psychological and social effects of bullying. "This study suggests that parents, school personnel, and health professionals need to reduce the occurrence of this behaviour and the social marginalisation of obese children at an early age," they write.

'Financial Express', 18 February 2006