Peers' jeers rob obese kids of cheer
Aug 13, 2008 - 1:22:36 PM

Taunts or jeers of peers can rob obese adolescents of peace of mind and result in health and psychological problems that overshadow their young adulthood.

Ryan Adams, assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and William Bukowski, professor at Concordia University, Montreal, examined peer victimisation as a predictor of depression and body mass index in obese and non-obese adolescents.

Adams explained that while peer victimisation is comparable to bullying, bullying behaviour typically involves one-on-one targeting while peer victimisation can also entail victimisation that can come from the peer group in general.

Over a four-year period, the study found lower self-esteem and increased depression and body mass index for obese females who felt they were victimised by their peers.

Obese males reported increased depression and lower feelings about physical appearance. However, negative feelings about their physical appearance earlier in the study were linked to a decrease in body mass index as they got older.

For non-obese males and females, there was no link between peer victimisation and increased body mass index, but there were links to negative feelings about physical appearance as they got older.

'Victimisation may not only reinforce the negative self-concepts that a risk factor for victimisation, such as obesity, may cause, but a risk factor for victimisation, such as obesity, will also make it more likely that the adolescent will be victimised indefinitely,' Adams said.

Using data from Statistics Canada, the researchers randomly selected Canadian children identified through the National Longitudinal Survey for Children and Youth and gathered data from 1,287 participants over three different time periods, including when the children were 12-13 years old, 14-15 years old and 16-17 years old.

To determine if children were being victimised by peers, they were asked whether children said nasty things to them at school, whether they felt bullied at school, or if they were bullied on the way to home or school.

To examine feelings about their physical appearance, the children were asked whether they liked the way they looked. To check body mass index over the three time periods, the children were asked to report their weight and height. Body Mass Index - was then calculated for males and females, and obesity was determined based on the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's growth charts.

'It is important to go beyond using obesity as a predictor of long-term adjustment and examine the processes and experiences of obese individuals that might cause depression or changes in health,' said Adams.

These findings were published in the current issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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