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Obese Boys more likely to be Bullies and Bullied

Update Date: Aug 26, 2014 11:49 AM EDT

Bullying can have negative, long-term effects on children. In a new study, researchers examined factors that might contribute to one's risk of bullying as well as one's likelihood of becoming a bully. The team composed of Pauline Jansen and colleagues from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands reported that boys who were obese were more likely to be bullies and be bullied.

"I was very surprised by how young these kids are," said Rachel Annuziato, an assistant professor for clinical psychology at Fordham University in New York City reported by WebMD. "I think our understanding of bullying is that it's something that starts a little later cognitively and developmentally, but this suggests that isn't the case. From the day kids walk into school, this is a concern."

For this study, the researchers recruited more than 1,300 children and their teachers from the Netherlands. They surveyed the group in order to assess who were bullies or victims. The researchers also recorded how often bullying took place as well as all the forms of bullying that occurred, which included physical, verbal, relationship or material. Relationship bullying involved ostracizing others and material bullying involved stealing or hiding someone's belongings. The children were also divided based on their weight class using body mass index (BMI) measurements.

After controlling for factors including age, sex, national origin, mother's level of education, and whether the child had siblings or lived with a single parent, the researchers found a link between weight and bullying instances. Obese boys had an increased risk of falling in both categories of being a bully and being bullied by others.

"A lot of these risk behaviors may have to do with self-regulation, self-discipline and decision-making, which gets into the executive functioning of the brain," Susan Tortolero, a professor of public health at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, said. "It could be that poor coping is going on here, too. They could be expressing aggression because they're being bullied and they don't know how to cope with it or express it."

Even though the study was conducted in the Netherlands, Tortolero believes that if the same study were to be conducted in the U.S., the results would be very similar. In order to prevent bullying, Tortolero stressed the importance of teaching young children what a healthy relationship should look like. In addition, parents, teachers and guardians can help build children's self-confidence, which could make them feel more comfortable in their own skin.

The study, "Teacher and Peer Reports of Overweight and Bullying Among Young Primary School Children," was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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