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Bullies and Their Victims Obsessed With Weight Loss

Dieter Wolke, PhD, and Kirsty Lee, PhD, professors of psychology at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, discovered that teenagers who are involved in bullying in any way—from bullies, their victims, and those who both bully and get bullied—are more likely to develop concerns about their eating and exercise behaviors and become preoccupied with losing weight.

Approximately 2800 adolescents in United Kingdom secondary schools were screened for involvement in bullying, through self- and peer-assessment.

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

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% of bullies have extreme preoccupation with weight loss, as well as 55% of bullying victims, and 57% of teens who both bully and are bullied. This is compared with adolescents who have no involvement with bullying—35% 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, defined as 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 that 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.

"Bullies are bi-strategic—they want to be popular by being dominant though bullying but also want to look good," Wolke says.

"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, "Does Psychological Functioning Mediate the Relationship Between Bullying Involvement and Weight Loss Preoccupation in Adolescents? A Two-Stage Cross-Sectional Study," is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Source: University of Warwick