Previous research has shown that boys, minorities and children from low-income groups are more likely to be bullied, so the researchers took these factors into account to see if they made a difference. The study authors also considered a child's social skills and academic achievement in their analysis.
"No matter how much we retested, the findings were very robust. Obese kids are more likely to be bullied," said Lumeng.
She said that one of the reasons she believes the findings were so consistent is that prejudice against overweight or obese people is "so pervasive that it's acceptable." But, she added, "Obesity is really complex. It's not all about willpower. It's a brain-based disorder, and I hope that message becomes clearer."
Dana Rofey, an assistant professor with the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said she wasn't surprised by the findings. "Bullying is the most common psychosocial complaint that our patients present with," she said.
"For parents and pediatricians, one of the issues our study raises is that if you're caring for a child who's overweight, you need to be alert to this and you might want to gently bring it up with the child. Ask, 'How are things at school going?' or 'Does anyone ever say something that makes you feel bad?' because this may be an issue that's difficult for kids to bring up," said Lumeng.
If your child lets you know that he or she is being bullied, Lumeng said your first response should be to validate your child's feelings and let them know that it's not OK for someone to treat them like that.
What to do next can be tricky, agreed both experts.
"Be supportive, and let your child know that you'll help them. Consult with your child and ask how he or she would like you to get involved," a
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