The Perils of Childhood Obesity: Bullying

There was a very interesting and important article in the NYT the other day (Tuesday, July 14, 2015, p D6), entitled: “Weight Bullying Crosses Borders,” and was written by Roni Caryn Rabin.  By now everyone knows that childhood obesity is epidemic; more that 30% of U.S. children are overweight (and so are their parents).  But what many people may not know, is that although childhood bullying has always been around, being “fat” is now the most common reason children are bullied.  Rabin’s excellent article summarized a recent report in the journal Pediatric Obesity, that was a cross-national study of the problem.  The investigating team, headed by Rebecca Puhl, the deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford, surveyed almost 3000 adults in the U.S., Canada, Iceland, and Australia, countries with similar rates of childhood and adult obesity.   A whopping 70% of respondents in each of the 4 countries surveyed, felt bullying of overweight children was a serious problem.  Far down on the list of of causes of bullying came race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, and mental disabilities.  We adults may not be much better than the child bullies: a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) report found that one in three physicians listed obesity as a condition they responded negatively to- not far behind drug addiction, mental illness, and alcoholism.

What can we do about this problem?

I am supposedly an expert on childhood obesity, but frankly, I was stunned by the article.  Of course, I knew that overweight children are sometimes bullied, but I did not appreciate the extent of the problem.  I am not certain what to do about the problem.  Clearly, we adults who are educators and health care providers, need to do much more to think about our own attitudes towards obesity, in both children and adults.  It is easy to “blame” the child and the parents for the problem, without thinking about how difficult it being trim can be, especially given the very strong genetic bases for much of obesity.  At the same time, it must be recognized that obesity is a very serious health hazard for both children and adults, and that efforts must be made to help people understand this, and to offer non-judgmental help.  I am going to have to give much more thought to this important problem.  Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you check out the NYT report.

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