It is well known that adolescent bullying can have enduring effects on a child’s psyche but a new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity reveals that bullying can negatively impact children’s health in the long run too. Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), along with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health (NICHD), wanted to determine how weight-based teasing might affect body mass index (BMI) and fat mass in children over time.

The study was conducted by Dr Jack Yanovski of NICHD and his colleagues upon 110 adolescent participants comprising 55 per cent females and 45 per cent males. The study continued for up to 15 years, between July 1996 and July 2009. The participants were asked to check-in with the researchers annually. The average age of the volunteers upon enrolment in the study, was about 12 years and they were already either overweight or obese, or were considered being at high risk for adult obesity for having overweight parents.

Initially, volunteers completed a survey which asked them to report how often they experience weight-based teasing, with “1” for “never” and “5” for “often.” Their height, weight, body fat mass, and BMI were also noted, and updated each year along with a fresh questionnaire. Even after adjusting for baseline BMI and fat mass, researchers found that participants who reported being teased the most gained 33 per cent more weight and 91 per cent more fat mass per year than those who avoided jeering.

Dr Natasha Schvey, the study’s first author and psychology professor at USU opines, “What’s important about these findings is that they suggest that weight-based teasing puts children at risk for excess weight- and fat-gain over the course of their development,” It is, therefore, important to educate people that not only does teasing discourage healthy behaviors, it rather seems to do just the opposite, i.e., motivates unhealthy behaviors among those jeered at, she added.

Although researchers are not able to confirm a particular reason for the association, they believe it could be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. A child who is mocked at for their weight may experience more self-esteem issues, which could encourage unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge eating. “Based on these findings, a possible next step would be to develop clinical pediatric interventions that could help reduce the harmful effects of weight-based teasing,” said Schvey

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