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CANADA: Bullying leads to higher BMI in youth, study suggests

Researchers say it affected more males than females
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Bullying can lead to a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in young people, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

UW researchers studied data collected from over 4,500 Ontario high school youth over a span of three years. From this data, they found both genders saw an increase in BMI one year after bullying took place in high school, resulting in some students going from a normal weight status to an overweight or obese status.

However, they noted an increased BMI was more likely among young men, with 60 per cent being affected compared to 51 per cent of young women.

“For males, victimization one year earlier was associated with higher odds of high weight status in the second year, even though no victimization was reported in the second year,” said Nour Hammami, a School of Public Health and Health Systems PhD graduate who co-led the study, in the release.

“For females, bullying at both the first and second years was seen to be associated with higher weight status at the second year.”

Research also suggested that young people who experienced bullying were more physically active, but engaged in more substance use than peers who didn't experience bullying. According to the release, substance use included binge drinking, cannabis use and smoking.

“Our results suggest that there are possibly different hidden coping mechanisms adopted by gender groups when faced with bullying,” says co-author Ashok Chaurasia, a School of Public Health and Health Systems professor, in the release. “It is crucial to understand these mechanisms and how different gender groups can be empowered to make healthy individual choices to use as coping mechanisms for bullying and improving self-health.”

In order to help young people who are victims of bullying, researchers suggest a multi-faceted approach. Hammami says more supervision from teachers in common areas, more disciplinary action against perpetrators and encouraging more students to speak out against bullying is needed. 

Activities that foster team engagement and comradery can also help the physical and mental health of victims, while combating against bullying.

“The implications of this study are that youth who are victims of bullying have negative psychosocial effects as a result of their victimization, that they also engage in more problem and risky health behaviours and that this is associated with other adverse health effects such as increases in weight status,” says Hammami in the release. 

“Rather than focus the attention on encouraging youth to lose weight, as has been the case in previous obesity prevention models, we must understand the causes and predictors of increases in weight status and work with schools and policy-makers to address these factors through prevention and intervention programs.”

- KitchenerToday/Rogers Media