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Weight-Based Bullying in Ontario Youth

At the 1st National Summit on Weight Bias and Discrimination organized by the Canadian Obesity Network in Toronto almost exactly a year ago, I learnt that weight-based bullying is one of the most common and pervasive forms of bullying experience by children and youth.

This topic is further examined by Obesity Network Bootcamper Atif Kukaswadia and colleagues from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario in a paper just published in OBESITY FACTS.

The researchers report on their findings in a longitudinal analysis of the Health Behaviour in School-Age Children Survey conducted in 2006 and then again in 2007, which included 1,738 youths from 17 Ontario high schools.

Based on self-reports, excess adiposity preceded bullying involvement and obese and overweight males reported 2-fold increases in both physical and relational victimization, while obese females reported 3-fold increases in perpetration of relational bullying over the observation period.

In addition, among those free of bullying at baseline (2006), significant increases in perpetration of relational bullying were reported by obese females in 2007 relative to normal-weight females (14.8 vs. 3.8% among normal-weight girls).

These findings support previous findings on the increased risk for bullying faced by overweight and obese youth and certainly suggest that this problem, if anything, is getting worse.

Given the many deleterious (and often lasting) effects of bullying on mental and physical health, this issue is certainly something that should concern us all.

Thus, it is certainly not surprising that one of the strategic priorities identified at CON’s Weight-Bias Summit was to “address weight-bias and discrimination in education settings”.

A full report of the Summit is available here.

Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgKukaswadia A, Craig W, Janssen I, & Pickett W (2011). Obesity as a determinant of two forms of bullying in ontario youth: a short report. Obesity facts, 4 (6), 469-72 PMID: 22248998



  1. Sadly, the current language of the medical community provides ammunition for bullies. In the states, for example, in Georgia, there is an anti-obesity campaign conceived by adults with medical credentials, directed at fat children and featuring fat child actors who are sad, ashamed and accepting blame. The campaign purports to be about health, but it’s clearly bullying. And it’s appalling.

    Until CON and other enlightened agencies use their clout to get people rethinking, the bullying will continue. Our efforts cannot be “anti-obesity.” First of all, “Anti-” is negative, hostile and personal (the “war on obesity” is clearly being waged on obese people, not some amorphous concept). Second, obesity is only an unreliable symptom of larger health issues anyway. Efforts must be “pro-health” for all. A thin person who is behaving in unhealthy ways is still unhealthy — much moreso than an active fat person who eats healthfully. A thin person is simply spared (at least temporarily) one of the tell-tale signs that ill health may be present.

    It is okay for public health agencies to promote weight maintenance as a goal, but until we know better how to create weight loss long-term, public health agencies need to stay away from any “lose weight” messaging, and clearly “anti-obesity” messaging is of the “lose weight” variety.

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  2. I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources to assist you looking at programs.

    A Yale Rudd Center report reviewed existing research on weight stigma in children and adolescents, with attention to the nature and extent of weight bias toward obese youths and to the primary sources of stigma in their lives, including peers, educators, and parents. As a result of weight bias and discrimination, obese children suffer psychological, social, and health-related consequences.

    Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center further brings to light the stigmatization of large children in the following article.

    The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. The CATK lists resources available to parents, educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

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