New Study Ties Obesity to Bullying


A new study by Julie Lumeng, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan shows a correlation between children in 3rd – 6th grade who are obese and the likelihood that they will be bullied. The study shows that these children classified as obese are 65% more likely to be bullied than their peers of normal weight.

800 children born in 1991 from ten cities in the U.S. were surveyed as well as their teachers and mothers. According to some researchers, while this study does show a consistent pattern between obesity and bullying, it doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t other factors involved. A CNN Health article about the study explains other factors as well:

Still, the findings don’t rule out the possibility that being overweight and being bullied share a common, underlying cause, says Matthew N. Davis, M.D., a primary care physician and the director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“There’s always been the question in the back of people’s minds about whether there was another factor involved which was related to both bullying and obesity,” says Davis, who was not involved in Lumeng’s study.

Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D., a clinical professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, Ohio, suggests that the low self-esteem of overweight children may make them targets for their peers.

Rimm, who wasn’t involved in the study, surveyed thousands of middle-school children for a 2004 book, “Rescuing the Emotional Lives of Overweight Kids.” “Kids who considered themselves very overweight not only were bullied, but…indicated more loneliness, saw themselves as troublemakers, and saw themselves as sad, fearful, and wimpy,” she says. “They really have huge struggles.”

The article goes on to explain many other factors that go into issues with obesity, self image happiness and home life. While I definitely believe that this study’s findings are true, I also think that children who are different than the norm are as likely to be picked on. For example, I would theorize that children who are:

  1. Underweight
  2. Small for their age
  3. Have a physical deformity
  4. Have a mental disability
  5. First generation from a foreign country

would also struggle with bullying issues. While obesity is an obvious physical issue and easy to point out as a hot topic, I wonder if the statistics given above would be any different for the five categories I just mentioned. The bigger issue, it seems to me in many cases is the non-acceptance of children for other children who are different then them. I would say we are only a generation or two from when children were taught that children of a different color or religion were different and in some cases less human than them. These are some of the parents out there today and some either consciously or unconsciously still share these learnings with their children.

Teaching tolerance and acceptance should be part of any good anti-bullying program. Of course, for health reasons, the obese children should try to lose weight and live healthier, but should not have to suffer with constant bullying. I’d be interested in seeing more studies about statistics of difference against the norm and bullying to see if the numbers are close to the same as the obese study.

3 thoughts on “New Study Ties Obesity to Bullying

  1. One reason I believe that anyone who is overweight gets bullied, child or adult, is because they are seen as not having the will-power or self discipline to lose weight. This is an incorrect assumption. Often times people hold on to weight due to allergies,a body that is not working efficiently, or a past physical or emotional trauma. Thus, if we could take the judgement out of why people are overweight, perhaps they would not get as bullied, because they would not hold themselves as solely responsible for their weight problem, and in turn their self esteem would not be so damaged.

  2. The sad truth is that obesity among school age children is no longer outside of the norm. The researchers were a little surprised to find that being overweight still raised the chances of being bullied or of them being a bully.

    It is a hard circle to escape – the children are overweight which generates low self esteem, they are bullied or become bullies increasing those bad feelings which leads to an increase solace in food, lack of activity and isolation, which keeps them overweight.

    It makes you wonder if kids aren’t being taught empathy at home – we need to start teaching at school.

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