Teens who are bullied about their weight or body shape are more likely to use cannabis or alcohol than those who are not bullied over their weight, a new study has found.
The study, which appeared in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, explained that although appearance-related teasing has become a pervasive form of teasing among adolescents, its impact on the risk of marijuana and alcohol use remained largely unknown. This is why the authors examined the link between cannabis and alcohol use and appearance-related teasing.
The link between bullying and alcohol and marijuana use
For their study, the authors used a sample of 1,344 students ages 11 to 14, with 52% of them being female. All of them were from 5 public middle schools and they all completed a survey that assessed their demographic characteristics, depressive symptoms, experiences of bullying about their weight or body shape perpetrated by their peers or family members, weight status, substance use, and general peer victimization. Findings show that the more frequent the appearance-related bullying was, the higher the concurrent level of cannabis use, binge drinking, and alcohol consumption. The team wrote that they adjusted the findings for age, ethnicity and race, gender, body mass index scores, and perceived socioeconomic status to get the result.
University of Connecticut’s clinical research assistant Melanie Klinck, BA, lead author of the study, said via research platform Science Daily that appearance-based bullying is common and has several negative effects for teens. It also heightened the risk for alcohol or marijuana use because if there is also increased sensitivity to body image.
Body image sensitivity heightens the risk for substance use
Minnesota-based eating disorder treatment center Park Nicollet Melrose Center previously conducted a study on teens and body image. It said that body image is a “component of self-esteem” but approximately 80% of women in the US don’t like how they look and 34% of men are dissatisfied with their body. More than 50% of Americans likewise are not happy with their present weight and even 70% of the normal weighted women said that they still want to appear thinner than their current body shape. More than 30% of teen boys and 50% of teen girls are using unhealthy weight control behaviors, like fasting, skipping meals, taking laxatives, vomiting, and smoking cigarettes.
In a survey among 10-year-olds, more than 80% of them said they are afraid of being fat. When girls reach middle school, 40 to 70% of them are dissatisfied with about 2 or more parts of their body. However, the US treatment center highlighted that parents or family members as a whole influence body esteem directly by their comments about shape and weight, the developing bodies, putting their kids on diets to be thinner, or teasing them. Family members also have an indirect influence on the person’s body esteem, such as their modeling-actions that speak louder than their words.
University of Connecticut School of Medicine’s professor of pediatrics and psychiatry Christine McCauley Ohannessian, PhD., who is also the director of the Center for Behavioral Health at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center and a part of Klinck’s team, said that their findings raise larger issues of how society puts too much emphasis on body image and beauty for women and girls and the damaging effects it may have. She went on to say that communities and schools have a role of specifically addressing such a form of bullying by implementing substance-use interventions or anti-bullying policies in their premises.
The authors said that they asked their participants if their peers or siblings had teased them about their body shape, weight, or eating in the last six months. The results showed that 55% of the participants experienced weight-based teasing. They were also asked about their substance use. The researchers found that the more frequent the weight-based bullying was, the higher the levels of their substance use. Klinck cited the fallacy “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” which she believes doesn’t consider the serious effects of verbal bullying and emotional abuse on people.
Prevalence of obesity
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shares that countries with the highest share of adults that were overweight or obese in 2016 included the United States (70.2%), Qatar (70.3%), Kuwait (72.1%), Australia (67.2%), Russia (61.1%), Canada (67.5%), Algeria (60.7%), Libya (65.7%), Egypt (61.9%), Saudi Arabia (69%), Argentina (63.4%), and Chile (64.4%), among others. The statistic was based on people with a body-mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25.
Meanwhile, countries with the lowest share of adults that were overweight in the same year were Uganda (19%), Chad (19.5%), Niger (19.7%), India (19.3%), Afghanistan (19.7%), Ethiopia (18.1%), and Burkina Faso (20%), among others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US likewise shared that childhood obesity is also a serious problem in the US that puts kids and adolescents at risk of poor health but the prevalence of obesity decreased with increasing level of education of the household head among adolescents and kids aged 2 to 19 years old.
Bullying: facts and statistics
More than one out of every five students said they experienced bullying, reports PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. In 2016, 33% of the students who reported being bullied at school said that they were bullied at least once or twice every month during the school year. Of those kids bullied at school, 13% of them said they were made fun of, insulted, or called names, 5% were spat on, tripped, shoved, and pushed, 5% were excluded from school activities on purpose, and 12% were the subject of rumors. Bullied students said they experienced the abuse in the stairwell or hallway of the school (42%), on the school bus (10%), in the locker room or bathroom (9%), outside the school grounds (19%), in the cafeteria (22%), and inside the classroom (34%).
Bullying, whether it is appearance-based or not, hurts the person being bullied and it also impacts their relationship with other people, even with their family. Aside from substance abuse, the bullied may also have negative outcomes, such as prolonged victimization and depression.