We know that being called names in the playground takes an enormous toll on your mental health – but it can directly affect your waistline, too.
New research from the King's College, London has found that children who are bullied at school are almost twice as likely to be overweight by the time they hit the age of 18.
You might assume that those who were bullied as kids were more genetically likely to be overweight as young adults <em>anyway</em>, but the researchers say that isn't the case – it's the bullying itself that's making them put on the weight.
"Bullying is commonly associated with mental health problems, but there is little research examining the physical health of bullied children," says lead researcher Andrea Danese in a media release.
"Our study shows that bullied children are more likely to be overweight as young adults, and that they become overweight independent of their genetic liability and after experiencing victimisation."
To reach this conclusion, the researchers followed the lives of 2000 English and Welsh children from their birth in 1994 until they were 18 in 2012. Through frequent interviews with the children's parents and their teachers, the researchers sought to understand the rate of bullying for each child throughout their schooling life. Then, once the children became young adults at 18, the researchers measured their BMI and waist-to-hip ratio and compared to their statistics in the pre-bullying age of their lives.
The results were stark. Children who were chronically bullied throughout school were 1.7 times more likely to overweight than those who weren't – and that finding was totally independent of their socioeconomic status, mental health and IQ.
But the bad news doesn’t end there. With the rise of heavily processed food, cyberbullying and a distinct lack of exercise, the researchers believe the problem will only continue to worsen.
"Although we cannot definitively say that bullying victimisation causes individuals to become overweight, ruling out alternative explanations, such as genetic liability, strengthens the likelihood that this is the case," says Jessie Baldwin, who co-authored the research.
According to Baldwin, the findings from this study indicate that there should be a greater focus on getting bullied children into supportive health and fitness programs.
"As well as preventing bullying, our findings emphasise the importance of supporting bullied children to prevent them from becoming overweight, which could include interventions aimed at promoting exercise and healthy eating," advises Baldwin.
It’s not the first time the King's College team has examined the link between childhood bullying and weight gain – in May last year they discovered that bullying victims were far more likely to be overweight well into their fifties compared to those who had an easy run through school.