Science Says Bullies and Their Victims Tend to Be Obsessed with Their Weight
School bullies have one surprising thing in common with the people they mess with.
If you went to high school (heck, if you even just saw Mean Girls), you know that bullying is totally real and it sucks. Whether you're admittedly guilty of having bullied someone à la Regina George or were the target of the bullying like Janis Ian, the psychological effects of that kind of nasty behavior can last long after graduation day. But it turns out there are some serious physical effects, too: A new study out of the University of Warwick found that adolescent-age school bullies and their victims are more obsessed with weight loss than anyone else. (BTW, women can still actually become mean girls when they're ovulating.)
In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, lead researcher Dieter Wolke and his colleagues surveyed nearly 3,000 11- to 16-year-olds in U.K. schools about their involvement in bullying. The teens' eating and exercise thoughts and behaviors, self-esteem levels, body image, and emotional well-being were reviewed through a variety of questionnaires.
More than half of all bullying victims (55 percent) were preoccupied with weight loss, along with 42 percent of the bullies themselves. For comparison, only 35 percent of those not involved in any type of bullying were obsessed with losing weight. But the population most a risk were the "bully-victims"-those who've been on both sides of the bullying equation-as researchers found that 57 percent experienced obsessive feelings about their weight. On top of that, this group was also the most at risk for developing an eating disorder.
Wolke and his team believe that bullies are driven by the desire to be the most attractive and fittest, while victims have reduced psychological functioning from being picked on. Naturally, being targeted by bullies can have a slew of short- and long-term effects such as weight loss, chronic low self-esteem, and eating disorders. But the bully-victims (if you've ever been teased, but maybe also teased someone, you'd self-identify here) are affected in both of these ways: Not only may they have the drive to be desired, popular, and strong, but they also can suffer from the psychological harm and low levels of self-esteem that come with being victimized. You could argue, almost, that it's double the trouble. The lesson here? Bullying is toxic, and this is just another example of how negative behavior can hurt your health, too.