Bullies and Victims Often Both Obsessed with Weight-Loss

A new study from the U.K. finds that teenagers who are involved in bullying in any way are more likely to develop concerns about their eating and exercise behaviors, and to become preoccupied with losing weight.

University of Warwick researchers discovered the behavior among those who both bully and get bullied.

Professor Dieter Wolke and Dr. Kirsty Lee found that bullies are preoccupied with being more attractive and stronger — and victims are affected psychologically by being picked on, giving them low self-esteem and desire to change their body.

The findings show that those involved in bullying may be more likely to develop eating disorders, a relationship that clinicians should remember when providing interventions. Indeed, researchers believe emotional well-being, self-esteem problems and body image issues should all be examined when caring for victims of bullying.

In the study, researchers screened almost 2,800 adolescents in U.K. secondary schools for involvement in bullying, through self and peer assessment.

A sample of those involved in bullying — around 800 teenagers — was analyzed for eating and exercise thoughts and behaviors, self-esteem levels, body image and emotional wellbeing.

They were asked to complete established questionnaires such as Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, the Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults, and the eating behaviors component of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment.

Results from these tests showed that 42 percent of bullies have extreme preoccupation with weight-loss, as well as 55 percent of bullying victims, and 57 percent of teens who both bully and are bullied. This is compared with adolescents who have no involvement with bullying; 35 percent of those are obsessed with losing weight.

The researchers say that bullies are preoccupied with weight-loss because they are driven by the desire to be the most attractive, strongest and fittest.

Victims of bullying suffer from reduced psychological functioning due to being picked on, causing weight-loss obsession, chronically low self-esteem levels, and eating disorders.

Teenagers who are bullied, and also bully their peers — bully-victims — have the highest preoccupation with weight-loss and are most likely to develop eating disorders, as well as other psychological problems.

Bully-victims are doubly affected, by both the desire to be attractive, strong and popular, and the psychological harm and lowered levels of self-esteem which come from peer victimization.

From the results of this research, Wolke argues that clinicians dealing with victims of peer bullying should directly target their emotional well-being, and issues with self-esteem and body image.

Said Wolke, “Bullies are bi-strategic — they want to be popular by being dominant though bullying but also want to look good. In contrast those who are bullied, the victims, are occupied with weight because they have poor body and self-esteem and are emotionally stressed and hope that looking good might make them feel better.

“If we could reduce bullying, it would help to improve self-worth, body image, well-being and healthy ways of keeping fit.”

The research appears in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Source: University of Warwick