Bullying Keeps Overweight Kids From Exercise

It's an overlooked barrier to helping children get healthier, study finds

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SUNDAY, May 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight kids who could benefit from sports and regular exercise are often discouraged from doing so by taunts and bullying, a U.S. study finds.

"We found that as rates of peer victimization among overweight kids went up, rates of physical activity went down," lead author Eric Storch, assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Florida, Gainesville, said in a prepared statement.

"When you speak to overweight kids, one of the things you often hear is just this. Kids are targeting them. Kids are picking on them," Storch said. "You're going to end up avoiding these types of situations. The problem clinically is, if kids are avoiding PE (physical education) class or playing sports because of fears of negative peer relationships, their health status is affected."

He and his colleagues studied 100 children, ages 8 to 18, who were overweight or at risk of being overweight.

About a quarter of the children reported significant problems with bullying in the two weeks before the start of the study.

Not only does bullying make overweight children want to avoid gym class, sports or other situations where they face ridicule, it also can lead to depressed feelings that keep these children from wanting to take part in activities.

"When you think about it, it makes intuitive sense, when you consider the hallmark signs of depression -- sadness, fatigue, lack of interest in things you used to like," Storch noted. "When kids are having a tough time with peers, and struggling with depression, then this can translate to reduced rates of physical activity."

The study appears in the April online edition of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about exercise and children.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, April 2006

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