Obese teen girls three times more likely to be bullies than their slimmer peers

  Jan 23, 2012 – 9:17 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 23, 2012 10:42 PM ET

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images files

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images files

If your image of a mean girl is a toothpick thin high schooler, it’s time to think again.

new study from Queen’s University has found obese teenage girls are three times more likely to be bullies than the slimmer girls in their class — a finding that highlights the very cyclical nature of bullying.

The study asked 1,738 students in 16 Ontario schools to share their height and weight information and answer questions about their experiences with bullying.

The researchers found that boys were twice as likely to be victims of physical bullying than their slimmer peers — a surprise to study co-author Atif Kukaswadia because they had hypothesized that physical size could help boys defend themselves.

“Boys [tend to] have physical dominance over each other – being bigger or stronger than the other person is a good trait,” said the doctoral student. “And so we figured that for obese kids, their size isn’t necessarily a negative thing.”

Obese girls were 1.32 times more likely to be physically victimized than normal weight females and 1.52 times more likely to be the physical bully. Boys were 1.71 times more likely to be the physical perpetrators.

When it came to “relational bullying,” — things like teasing, taunting, spreading rumours and shunning — obese boys were 2.11 times more likely to be on the receiving end of that behaviour than their slimmer peers, though they were not more likely to partake in it.

Obese girls, on the other hand, were 1.76 times more likely to be relationally bullied and three times more likely to be that kind of bully — the most significant of the findings, Mr. Kukaswadia said.

“We suspect that it might have something to do with them being treated that way by other people,” he said. “They internalize that and project it back outwards. But we don’t really know, we would have to do a lot more research to figure out what exactly is going on.”

Co-author Wendy Craig, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University who specializes in bullying, said the study shows that becoming a bully is often a reaction to being bullied and there can be consequences if the cycle continues.

“The involvement in both the perpetration and the victimization of it suggests that they are at risk for the most negative outcomes because those who are involved in both perpetrating and are victimized by it tend to have the most negative outcomes [in the long run],” Dr. Craig said in an email. “Likely it is a cycle where they take out on others their anger and hostility at being victimized themselves.”

The study was published in the December issue of Obesity Facts, a publication of The European Journal of Obesity.


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