An international study that asked adults why children were bullied found that the most common reason was bodyweight. Nearly three quarters of adults in four countries listed weight as the leading reason for a child being bulled. Weight was cited more often than race, religion, physical or mental handicap, or sexual orientation.
The adults said they also felt that anti-bullying programs and policies are not doing enough to address this type of bullying.
The study, led by Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford, surveyed more than 2,800 adults in the United States, Canada, Iceland, and Australia. These four countries were chosen because they have similar rates of obesity in children and adults and also because their societies put an emphasis on being thin and fit.
Seventy percent of the people who took part in all four countries said they thought bullying based on bodyweight was a common problem. Virtually all of those who thought so said it was "serious" or "very serious." Fewer than 12% listed sexual orientation as a reason for bullying and fewer than 12% listed physical disability. Fewer than 6% listed religion or academic ability.
Across all four countries, about three in four adults said that schools should make more of an effort to raise awareness of bullying based on weight and supposed anti-bullying laws to address the issue. However, support for a more active government role was weaker in the United States. Only half of American said that government should be more active on weight-based bullying.
About one-third of American children and teens are overweight or obese. Obese people face discrimination after they graduate as well. Obese workers earn less than non-obese workers. Bullying can occur in the family as well for obese youth; research has shown that nearly half of overweight girls say they have been teased about their weight by family members.
The study was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.