Mobbing makes fat children even fatter

Study shows teased children have significantly higher body fat levels.

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iStock.com/Juanmonino

There are far too many fat children in Germany. According to statistics, one in every six to seven children in Germany is carrying excess weight around and about six per cent of them are so fat that they are considered to be clinically obese. This is shown by data collected by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). According to this survey, around 15 per cent of girls and boys aged between three and 17 must be regarded as being overweight. Supposedly well-meaning adults often comment on the overweight of their offsprings by saying, “They’ll grow out of it.” However, experts warn that such a nonchalant attitude is an ignorant one because studies show that overweight children all too often become overweight adults. This often creates the conditions for obesity-related diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disorders even during childhood.

Not only do fat children find it difficult physically to keep up with their peers during sporting activities at a young age: they often also have to suffer the taunts and teasing of other children. It is well known that children can be cruel and that expressions like ‘tubby’ or ‘fat slob’ slip out quickly and more often than one would like. It often undermines the overweight children’s self-confidence when they become easy prey for their playmates’ mockery.

As recent studies have shown, such stress not only affects those concerned psychologically: it also encourages further weight gain. A survey by scientists at Yale University in the USA demonstrated this clearly. As part of the survey, around 110 adolescents who were overweight or of a similar disposition were asked about their experiences with weight-related bullying. The students confirmed that they were often teased because of their (excessive) weight. On average, the participants in the survey were almost twelve years old.

The scientists also registered the body mass index (BMI) and body fat levels of the students surveyed. Subsequently, the authors of the study observed the development of the adolescents over a period of about 8.5 years and then examined them again. The researchers found an unmistakable correlation between bullying and the weight or body structure of the volunteers.

Bullying stimulates gains in weight and body fat

In concrete terms, the analysis of the data collected showed that the children who were taunted particularly frequently gained about a third more weight during the observation period of 8.5 years than those who suffered less mocking from those around them. The meanness of their fellow human beings manifested itself even more noticeably when it came to the children’s body fat levels: among those who suffered the most from bullying, the increase in body fat levels per year was 91 per cent higher than for those children who suffered less. This corresponds to approximately 0.65 kilograms of additional fat, the scientists explained. For them, it proves that bullying affects the body weight and body composition of fatter children.

The researchers summarised their findings by saying that weight-related bullying promotes gains in weight and fat levels in adolescents who are overweight or obese. Their investigation could not give any scientific explanation for the connection between mobbing and weight increase, but they succeeded in clarifying how mental stress affects overweight children: in the form of additional superfluous kilos.

The German vernacular has actually coined the term ‘Kummerspeck’, which translates literally as ‘grief bacon’, to describe the excess body fat gained by emotional eating to compensate, for example, for psychological stress. Science has now discovered, however, that psychological stress can also cause changes in a person’s metabolism. That is why overweight children in particular need the support of adults, both by giving them encouragement and by helping them adopt a healthier diet. Setting children an example of how to protect themselves against excess pounds in childhood and adolescence is a good way for them to prevent obesity in later years.

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