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Obese children more likely to be bullies: study

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Obese teenagers aren't just at risk of being victimized for their looks by bullies. Some of them are also more likely to become bullies themselves, according to a new study out of Queen's University.

Researchers examined data gathered from 1,738 students at 16 Ontario high schools in 2006 and 2007 as part of the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey, reports the Canadian Press.

Teens were asked about two forms of bullying: physical and relational, which refers to verbal or social bullying (such as spreading rumours about someone and excluding them). They were also asked their weight and height, which were used to determine body mass index.

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Lead author Atif Kukaswadia told CP that among females who were not victims in 2006, 14.8 per cent of obese females perpetrated relational bullying the following year – compared with only two per cent of overweight females and 3.8 per cent of normal weight females.

For obese male students, the odds of being both victims and perpetrators of physical bullying increased approximately twofold.

"Obese kids do tend to be picked on," Mr. Kukaswadia, a doctoral student in the department of community health and epidemiology, told CP.

"When we found that they were also perpetrating the behaviour, that is concerning."

Mr. Kukaswadia said they don't have the data to indicate why obese children may become bullies. "We suspect that it's because of the way they're treated by others; they then project that behaviour on other people."

On a positive note, he and his colleagues point to other research that suggests school-level anti-bullying campaigns are working. They believe targeting those at high risk for being involved in bullying may increase the effectiveness of these programs.

"I think the big thing in the report is together with schools, together with teachers, with students, with public health professionals, trying to design programs that take into an account an inclusive school-level approach is the best way to tackle bullying in schools," Mr. Kukaswadia said.

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So much of our focus on bullying has been about "victims are good" and "bullies are bad" – but this study paints a far more complicated picture.

Do you think the line between bully and victim is finer than most assume?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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