Youth seeking weight loss treatment report bullying by those they trust

by Megan Orciari

(Medical Xpress)—Even as adolescents struggle to lose weight through treatment programs, they often continue to experience weight-based discrimination—not just from their peers, but from adults they trust, including parents and teachers. The study by researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale appears online in the journal Pediatrics, and is the first comprehensive examination of how weight-based victimization impacts youth seeking weight-loss treatment.

The researchers conducted a survey of 361 enrolled in two national weight-loss camps, and asked them about the nature and extent of victimization they had experienced because of their weight.

The majority of adolescents reported that they were teased and bullied most at school, with reports of victimization highest among those who were the heaviest. Most adolescents reported being victimized for over a year, and some reported they were teased and bullied for five years or more. For some, the victimization continued even after losing weight.

Although and friends were the most commonly reported perpetrators of teasing and bullying, high percentages of adolescents also reported being teased and bullied about their weight by trusted , including physical education teachers and sports coaches (42%), parents (37%), and classroom teachers (27%). Weight-based victimization was most frequently experienced as verbal teasing, followed by relational victimization (being ignored and excluded by peers), cyber-bullying, and physical aggression. 

"While our findings suggest that teasing and bullying may be inevitable for the heaviest youth, it is striking that even formerly overweight youth who have lost weight and whose body weight is now considered healthy may still be vulnerable to weight-based victimization," says lead author Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center's director of research.

"It's also concerning that over a third of adolescents reported weight-based victimization from parents," Puhl adds. "These findings highlight the need for parental education so that parents can use more sensitive and supportive strategies when talking about weight-related health with their child."

The authors assert that health providers, school personnel, and weight loss program staff can all play a role in helping these youth by looking for signs of teasing, bullying, or associated psychological distress; identifying whether youth have a support system in place to deal with bullying; sharing concerns about bullying with parents; and assisting in efforts to obtain resources for youth in need of support.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Jeers of peers may affect adolescent adjustment

Aug 06, 2008

New research suggests that traits such as obesity during adolescence that may increase the risk of attacks from peers can result in health and psychological struggles that remain through young adulthood. The researchers say ...

A doctor's words can enforce weight stigma

Sep 26, 2011

The language that health care providers use when discussing a child's weight with parents can reinforce negative weight-based stigma and jeopardize discussions about health, finds a study from the Rudd Center ...

Recommended for you

Note to young men: Fat doesn't pay

10 hours ago

Men who are already obese as teenagers could grow up to earn up to 18 percent less than their peers of normal weight. So says Petter Lundborg of Lund University, Paul Nystedt of Jönköping University and ...

Waistlines of US adults continue to increase

Sep 16, 2014

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

The public's perception of the obesity epidemic

Sep 15, 2014

Obesity has been called a major health crisis and a national epidemic. Health authorities, including prominent spokespeople like Michelle Obama and the Surgeon General, have sounded the alarm, and the media ...

User comments