Bullying and Health

Bullying and Body Weight

Our results showed that overweight boys and obese girls were more likely to be targets of verbal bullying. Underweight boys were more likely to be physical victims, whereas underweight girls were more likely to be relational victims.
— Bullying Victimization among Underweight and Overweight U.S. Youth: Differential Associations for Boys and Girls, p. 101

Overweight youth are more likely to be victimized than other students, primarily through being called mean names and teased. Underweight boys and girls, though they only represented 4.2% and 2.8% of students sampled, were also at a high risk for being bullied. Boys were likely to be subject to physical victimization, whereas girls were more likely to socially excluded.

Source: Jing Wang, et al. “Bullying Victimization among Underweight and Overweight U.S. Youth: Differential Associations for Boys and Girls” Journal of Adolescent Health. 2010 July ; 47(1) p. 101.

Obesity and Bullying Study — Parent ratings of problems affecting their child

C.S Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, 2008

Parents rate bullying as a “big problem” for children age 6 – 13 years who are obese. This indicates that children who are obese face grave discrimination in the form of bullying.

Source: Bullying worries parents of overweight and obese children” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital University of Michigan National Poll on Children’s Health (8 September, 2008) Vol. 4, Issue 4.


Discrimination Based on Ability

  • A 2006 study of US children with both psychological and functional limitations found a significant association between being bullied, bullying other children, and being both a bully and a victim.
  • Bullying others was only associated with an emotional, developmental or behavioral problem requiring treatment, though children with both a functional and behavioral limitation could be both bullies and victims.
  • This association persisted even once socio-demographic and health-status variables were accounted for.
  • A 2014 study found that 63% of children with autism spectrum disorders reported involvement in bullying in their lives, with 38% reporting bullying as either bully, victim, or both in the past month.
  • The study found that high functioning students were most likely to be victimized, and those children with low academic achievement or more serious limitations are often protected from bullying. The greatest risk of bullying involvement occurs when children with an autism spectrum disorders spend their time in general educational settings.

While there is the potential for any youth regardless of ability to be a bully, a victim or both, some research has shown that children with learning disabilities, emotional disorders or behavioural disorders may have a greater likelihood of falling into any one of these categories. It is also possible that being bullied may make some of these conditions worse, given the relationship between bullying and health outcomes.


J.V Cleave & M.M Davis, “Bullying and Peer Victimization Among Children With Special Health Care Needs” (Oct. 2006)  Pediatrics.

S.W. Flynt & R.C. Morton, “Bullying and children with disabilities,” (Dec. 2004) Journal of Instructional Psychology.

B. Zaplotsky et al.,“Risk factors for bullying among children with autism spectrum disorders”(2014) Autism.

Youth may perceive children who have a physical disability, mental disability or learning disability as being different. Doing some work in the classroom on difference and uniqueness can help to alleviate some of this by opening up the conversation to help youth understand these differences. Promoting uniqueness helps all students embrace their own differences.