Kids who are overweight or who have food allergies are more likely to be bullied than their peers, according to two new studies. One study was conducted by researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The other was undertaken by a team at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Both studies were published today in the journal Pediatrics.
In both studies, it was found that bullied youngsters were generally more anxious and stressed and had a lower quality of life than those who weren’t. A perennial issue for children, parents, educators, and doctors in recent years, research and greater media awareness of the links between cyber-bullying and depression — and even suicide — has raised the stakes, Reuters reports.
Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, whose commentary accompanies the studies, writes:
“There has been a shift and [more] people are… recognizing that bullying has real consequences, it’s not just something to be making jokes about.”
Alarmingly, researchers said between one in ten and one in three of kids and teens are bullied, although they noted that figures may vary depending on location and demographics.
In the Mount Sinai study, headed by Dr. Eyal Shemesh, 251 kids were seen at an allergy clinic. All of the children were between age eight and 17, and all had a diagnosed food allergy. Dr. Shemesh’s study revealed that just over 45 percent of the children said they’d been bullied for “any reason,” while 32 percent said they were bullied specifically because of their allergy, Reuters reports.
“Our finding is entirely consistently with what you find with children with a disability,” Shemesh said, adding that a food allergy “is a vulnerability that can be very easily exploited, so of course it will be exploited.”
Shemesh also said that the children in his study group were mainly white and upper income and that the bullying rate may not be representative of all kids with food allergies, MSN Healthy Living notes.
In the Yale University study in Connecticut, it was found that almost two-thirds of 361 teens enrolled in weight-loss camps had been bullied because of their weight. Rebecca Puhl and her team found that the likelihood of bullying increased with the child’s size, with the heaviest kids having an almost 100 percent chance of being bullied. The Yale study found that verbal teasing was the most common type of bullying, but online methods and texts were also used.
Dr. Shemesh’s group found that only about half of parents were aware that their food-allergic child was being bullied, with parental awareness directly indexed to the family’s means. Shemesh told Reuters Health it was vital that parents “start the conversation.” He added:
“Parents whose kids have a food allergy should really be aware that their kids have the kind of characteristic that often leads to being bullied. They should be working with the school to handle the food allergy in a way that isn’t going to make it more likely that their kids will be bullied – and they need to be attuned to their kids.”
The same advice applied to parents of overweight children. “Kids need their parents to be their allies in these situations. Their parents can help them still feel strong,” Shemesh said. More information about food allergies can be found here.