Being overweight or obese comes with many challenges — diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease… and now bullying? It probably comes as no surprise that kids who are overweight struggle with self esteem, but what’s even worse is that these children are more likely to be bullied by their own friends.
Hollywood couldn’t portray this any better than in the movie Goonies. Remember the character Chunk? It’s obvious that he’s been part of the gang for a long time — actually, the movie wouldn’t have been the same without his endearing personality — but he is often ridiculed for his weight. Think about his nickname alone: “Chunk”. At the start of the movie, there’s a scene where one of the boys won’t let Chunk through the gate unless he jiggles his stomach in front of everyone first. Eager to be let in, Chunk does exactly what he is told, and the boys get a good laugh.
Think about this in real life. If this were your child, how it would make them feel day in and day out? So, if you’re the parent of an overweight child that is being bullied, or if you’re the parent of the bully, here’s what you should know.
What Studies Have Found About Weight-Based Bullying
- Frenemies (the modern term for “friends” that often say hurtful things) ) and weight-related bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s emotional and physical health, including more weight gain.
- Overweight children were less likely to be claimed as a friend than their non-overweight classmates, but they were 1.65 times more likely to be disliked.
- Rejecting, making fun of, or pointing out a child who is overweight typically doesn’t help motivate the child to lose weight. It actually can have the opposite effect. Overweight kids who experience peer rejection and social isolation have been found less likely to exercise and control how much they eat.
- Judging people based on weight is actually learned pretty early in childhood. Even children at the second grade level reject other kids based on weight stigmas.
How to Stop Weight-Based Bullying
- Parents, instead of talking about weight around your kids, emphasize healthy eating and living. When parents talk about weight — sometimes pointing out their own problem areas in the mirror — they may unknowingly pass those judgments down to their children. Remember, your kids are always watching.
- Encourage your kids to change the way they treat kids who are overweight. Train them to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and to choose friends based on behaviors rather than looks.
- Help your kids recognize stigmas created by ads, social media, tv shows, and movies. For instance, if you watch Goonies with them, point out how they treat Chunk and how he deserves better treatment from his friends because he’s a kind friend with a heart of gold.
- Work with members of the community at schools, sports activities, and church to replace negative stigmas with positive messages that focus on children’s behaviors and efforts rather than looks.