Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
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Rudd Radar

Youth Seeking Weight Loss Treatment Report Bullying by Those They Trust

December 24, 2012

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, according to a recent study by the Rudd Center. The study, which appears online in the December issue of Pediatrics, is the first comprehensive examination of how weight-based victimization impacts youth seeking weight-loss treatment.

Researchers conducted a survey of 361 adolescents enrolled in two national weight-loss camps, and asked them about the nature and extent of victimization they had experienced because of their weight. They found that 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 peers 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 adults, 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.

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Joerg Luedicke, MA, Biostatistician; and Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, former Research Associate.