Childhood Obesity and Bullying
by Joe Leonardi
I recently came across an article on Medscape concerning childhood obesity and bullying.
The opening line states; “Obese children are more likely to be bullied than their nonobese peers regardless of sex, race, socioeconomic status (SES), social skills, or academic achievement, according to a University of Michigan study published online May 3 in Pediatrics.”
My initial reaction was; I wonder if I could get some fool to hand me a bunch of research money to study the possibility of the ground getting wet when it rains?
In my mind obesity and bullying is just one of those topics that does not require any research. Ask any adult, me included, who was overweight as a child if they experienced bullying.
I was picked on.
I was tormented.
I was mercilessly attacked, mostly verbally but sometimes physically, for being overweight.
I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, but I understand what it is like to have been picked on as an overweight child. Hell, I wasn’t even that overweight.
I was always a “big-boned” youth. Growing up I would get a hard time about it from my friends. Mostly it was harmless, but when I entered junior high school things changed.
It was in the seventh grade that good-natured ribbing changed over to malevolent, menacing, mean-spirited bullying. Kids from different grade schools came together in one place. I was no longer solely with the children I spent the last seven years getting to know. There were new kids I had never met, kids from the tougher parts of Greater Pittston. I was with twelve year olds that cursed, smoked and would think nothing of punching you in the face for looking at them funny.
To quote a movie, “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.”
My torment started walking to school on the first day. In an alley were a gang of kids hanging out smoking before we had to be in the building. It was from them I heard; “Hey Fatso! Are you going to make it up the hill?!”
It was a mild taunt.
I just kept walking.
Each day it got worse.
I tried ignoring them, but that only fueled their need to hurl even more insults.
I tried walking faster, but I couldn’t escape their shouts.
I opted to walk a different way. That worked — until they found my new route.
After that the insults became more vicious, punctuated by threatening profanities. Added to the comments about my weight were affronts to my courage, or as they perceived, lack thereof.
I once tried to fight, but that was fruitless. I just got my ass kicked and gave the bullies more ammunition. These daily confrontations went on for all of seventh and eighth grade — for two long years I silently endured.
In ninth grade things changed. I had been lifting weights with my best friend Francis for two years on and off, but that summer I became serious about it. I started to get more physically active. I even went out for football. The summer program of running and drills combined with weightlifting and better eating presented an unrecognizable person the following year.
I weighed more, but that weight was distributed differently. Though I still couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag, those that bullied me no longer took me for an easy mark. While I am not sure if they would have understood the meaning of the word respect, they treated me differently and no longer taunted me.
One of the conclusions of the article is that parents should not use bullying to coerce a child into losing weight. Even considering my childhood it is a conclusion with which I whole-heartedly agree. Besides, often times parents, guardians and even teachers may not even be aware there is a situation. My parents never knew I was being bullied. I never uttered a word. Even when it became physical I would just shrug it off as a fight. (When I was a kid getting into an occasional scuffle did not raise any alarms)
However, parents need to be aware that if their child is overweight or worse obese, that child is more than likely, to some degree being picked on.
It is happening.
It may be as mild as being called names or it could be much worse. Though I 100% agree with the conclusion that any degree of bullying should not be used as motivation for the child, it could be used as motivation for the parent. As I have written before — obesity is not a complex problem, however when it comes to children, they must be properly guided. They must be handled with care. Their emotions and body image can be negatively influenced if they perceive that their own parents regard them as different.
They need direction.
They require affection and love.
They must have parental involvement.
In my youth my parents helped in both little and big ways. They purchased a weight set as a gift. My mom would prepare foods that would not adversely effect my weight. They allowed me to pursue my new passions. They supported and encouraged me. I wasn’t any good at the sports I participated in, but my parents were in the stands for each and every game.
They came in the rain.
They came in the cold.
They came in the heat.
They sat for hours just to watch me sit on the bench. It didn’t matter to them whether I played or not. They were proud and they showed it by being there. Most importantly — I knew they were there.
It is time for all of us to not only start to do battle with the epidemic of childhood obesity, but to emerge victorious.
The victims are too young, they are too precious and they are too important for us not to.