Weight-Based Discrimination And Bullying Among Middle School Students: Its Alarming Emotional Consequences

By Olivia Reese, Parent Herald September 15, 06:52 am
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The real root of obese and overweight children's emotional problems came from how their peers react to their weight. A new study reveals that weight-based discrimination and bullying experienced by middle school students lead to serious emotional consequences as they grow up.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology this week found that peer responses affect an overweight teen the most as they enter middle school. The latter is already "a very difficult and emotional transition" for the majority of adolescents, according to Dr. Jaana Juvonen, the study's lead author and a professor of developmental psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research examined the body mass index (BMI) of 5,128 children from 26 middle schools in California.

By the seventh grade, a third of the participants experienced at least one weight-related act of discrimination. By eighth grade, young girls have increased feelings of fatigue, headaches, nausea, stomach aches, and poor appetite, which are indicators of loneliness and somatic symptoms, ScienceDaily reports.

Anti-obesity programs have good intentions when they entered many schools, but it turns out that those programs boost weight stigmatization more instead of reducing the number of obese and overweight students. Juvonen said these anti-obesity programs may have been subconsciously sending a message that obese and overweight youth should be blamed for their physical appearance.

Juvonen said these school-based programs should also promote weight acceptance and body diversity aside from working on reducing obesity and overweight rates. In the United States, around 17 percent (12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged two to 19 are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Childhood bullying can have long-term and traumatic effects on a person's mental health, particularly in their emotional, psychological, and social developments. Kids who were bullied are more likely to develop depression that requires psychiatric treatment when they grow up, Live Science reports. There are also increased risks of low self-esteem, poor school performance, and suicide.

Twenty-eight percent of children aged six to 12 and 20 percent of high school students have been bullied, according to StopBullying.gov. Middle school is usually the time when bullying is most rampant, with verbal and social discrimination as its most common types. Cyberbullying has also increased as social media continues to rise.

Bullying and discrimination don't just affect the person who is being bullied. It also affects bullies and people who witness bullying, StopBullying.gov added.

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