Victims of childhood bullying more likely to be overweight as young adults

November 11, 2016, King's College London

Children who are bullied in primary and secondary school are nearly twice as likely to be overweight at the age of 18 than non-bullied children, according to a new study by researchers from King's College London.

Previous research by the team at King's has shown that who experienced while growing up in the 1960s were more likely to be obese at the age of 45, yet it was unclear whether these long-term effects were present earlier in life.

In this new study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, the researchers set out to examine whether bullying in a modern context would have similar effects on weight, given that it may take different forms today (e.g. cyberbullying) than it did in the 1960s. The environment children grow up in today has also changed, with unhealthy food more readily available and sedentary lifestyles more common.

The researchers analysed data from the Environment Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, which has followed more than 2,000 children in England and Wales in 1994-1995 from birth to age 18. They assessed bullying victimisation in primary school and early secondary school through interviews with mothers and children at repeated assessments at the ages of 7, 10 and 12.

When the children were aged 18, the researchers measured their (BMI) and waist-hip ratio, an indicator of abdominal fat.

They found that 28 per cent of children in the study had been bullied in either primary school or secondary school (defined as transitory bullying), and 13 per cent had been bullied at both primary and (defined as chronic bullying).

Children who were chronically bullied in school were 1.7 times more likely to be overweight as than non-bullied children (29 per cent prevalence compared to 20 per cent). Bullied children also had a higher BMI and waist-hip ratio at the age of 18.

These associations were independent of other environmental risk factors (including socioeconomic status, food insecurity in the home, child maltreatment, low IQ, and poor mental health). In addition, and for the first time, analyses showed that children who were chronically bullied became overweight independent of their genetic risk of being overweight.

Finally, at the time of victimisation, bullied children were not more likely to be overweight than non-bullied children, indicating that were not simply more likely to fall victim to bullying.

Dr Andrea Danese from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'Bullying is commonly associated with mental health problems, but there is little research examining the physical health of bullied children. Our study shows that bullied children are more likely to be overweight as young adults, and that they become overweight independent of their genetic liability and after experiencing victimisation.'

Jessie Baldwin, also from the IoPPN at King's, said: 'Although we cannot definitively say that bullying victimisation causes individuals to become overweight, ruling out alternative explanations, such as genetic liability, strengthens the likelihood that this is the case. If the association is causal, preventing bullying could help to reduce the prevalence of overweight in the population.

'As well as preventing bullying, our findings emphasise the importance of supporting bullied children to prevent them from becoming , which could include interventions aimed at promoting exercise and healthy eating. Our data suggest that such interventions should start early in life.'

Explore further: Childhood bullying places 'long term strain' on UK mental health services

Related Stories

Childhood bullying places 'long term strain' on UK mental health services

October 27, 2016
New research shows that childhood bullying has a strong link to mental health service use throughout a person's life, putting additional strain on an "already overstretched" UK healthcare system.

Bullying likely to result in aggressive responses by children with disabilities

October 3, 2016
Children with disabilities—particularly those with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities and autism spectrum disorders—often are victims of bullying. However, very little research exists about how children with ...

Victims of childhood bullying at higher risk of cardiovascular disease in later life

May 20, 2015
People who experienced bullying in childhood are more likely to be overweight and show higher levels of blood inflammation in later life, finds new research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) ...

Bullied preemies may develop mental illness as adults, study says

February 17, 2016
Babies born at an extremely low birth weight (ELBW) are miracles, but they are more likely to be bullied as children, and this can significantly increase their risk for mental health problems as adults.

Bullied children 3 times more likely to self harm

April 26, 2012
Children who are bullied in childhood are up to three times more likely to self harm up to the age of 12, a study published today on BMJ suggests.

Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years

April 17, 2014
The negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident nearly 40 years later, according to new research by King's College London. The study is the first to look at the effects of bullying ...

Recommended for you

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.