Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 315–327 | Cite as

Strategies to Address Weight-Based Victimization: Youths’ Preferred Support Interventions from Classmates, Teachers, and Parents

  • Rebecca M. Puhl
  • Jamie Lee Peterson
  • Joerg Luedicke
Empirical Research


Weight-Based Victimization is a frequent experience for adolescents who are overweight or obese, and is associated with numerous psychosocial and physical consequences for those who are targets of victimization. Assessing targets` preferences for different types of support and intervention has been absent in the context of weight-based victimization, but is needed to help inform potential interventions, motivate action, and identify strategies to help adolescents cope with experiences of weight-related teasing or bullying. Adolescents (14–18 years, N = 361, 40 % female, 71 % Caucasian) enrolled in national weight-loss camps completed an on-line survey. Participants who reported previous experiences of weight-based victimization were surveyed about their preferred interventions from peers, friends, teachers, Physical Education (PE) teachers/coaches, and parents. Participants indicated their preferences for specific strategies pertaining to target support, bullying intervention and prevention (e.g., inclusion in peer activities, confronting the bully, telling an adult, and improving anti-bullying policies). Friends (66 %) and peers (58 %) were the most highly preferred intervention agents followed by teachers (55 %), PE teachers/coaches (44 %), and parents (43 %). Participants who experienced more weight-based victimization expressed increased desire for intervention. The frequency of victimization, social support from friends and family, and perceived likelihood and helpfulness of intervention significantly influenced participant preferences for certain types of intervention, although preferences were generally consistent across participants’ characteristics. The current study is the first to document youth’s preferences for interventions in response to weight-based victimization. The findings have important implications for encouraging appropriate intervention and informing bystanders, which may help to reduce the prevalence, recurrence, and consequences for youth who are targets of weight-based teasing or bullying.


Obesity Overweight Victimization Intervention Support 


  1. Agatston, P. W., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2007). Students’ perspectives on cyber bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S59–S60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arneson McCormack, L., Nelson Laska, M., Gray, C., Veblen-Mortenson, S., Barr-Anderson, D., & Story, M. (2011). Weight-related teasing in a racially diverse sample of sixth-grade children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111, 431–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black, S., Weinles, D., & Washington, E. (2010). Victim strategies to stop bullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 8(2), 138–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradshaw, C. P., Waasdorp, T. E., O’Brennan, L. M., & Gulemetova, M. (2011). Findings from the National Education Association’s nationwide study of bullying: Teachers’ and education support professionals’ perspectives. Retrieved from
  5. Carlson Jones, D., & Burrus Newman, J. (2005). A three-factor model of teasing: The influence of friendship, gender, and topic on expected emotional reactions to teasing during early adolescence. Social Development, 14(3), 421–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Craig, W., Pepler, D., & Blais, J. (2007). Responding to bullying: What works? School Psychology International, 28(4), 465–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Crothers, L. M., Kolbert, J. B., & Barker, W. F. (2006). Middle school student’s preferences for anti-bullying interventions. School Psychology International, 27(4), 475–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eisenberg, M. E., Berge, J. M., Fulkerson, J. A., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2011). Weight comments by family and significant others in young adulthood. Body Image, 8, 12–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eisenberg, M. E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Haines, J., & Wall, M. (2006). Weight-teasing and emotional well-being in adolescents: Longitudinal findings from Project EAT. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 675–683.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eisenberg, M. E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2003). Associations of weight-based teasing and emotional well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 157(8), 733–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied Missing Data Analysis. New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  12. Faith, M. S., Leone, M. A., Ayers, T. S., Moonseong, H., & Pietrobelli, A. (2002). Weight criticism during physical activity, coping skills, and reported physical activity in children. Pediatrics, 110(2), e23–e31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frisen, A., Hasselblad, T., & Holmqvist, K. (2012). What actually makes bullying stop? Reports from former victims. Journal of Adolescence, doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.02.001.
  14. Griffiths, L. J., & Page, A. S. (2008). The impact of weight-related victimization on peer relationships: The female adolescent perspective. Obesity, 16(Supp 2), S39–S45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gunnarsdottir, T., Njardvik, U., Olafsdottir, A. S., Craighead, L. W., & Bjarnason, R. (2011). Teasing and social rejection among obese children enrolling in family-based behavioral treatment: Effects on psychological adjustment and academic competencies. International Journal of Obesity, doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.181.
  16. Haines, J., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Thiel, L. (2007). Addressing weight-related issues in an elementary school: What do students, parents, and school staff recommend? Eating Disorders, doi: 10.1080/10640260601044428.
  17. Haines, J., Neumark-Sztainer, D. R., Wall, M., & Story, M. T. (2007b). Personal, behavioral and environmental risk and protective factors for adolescent overweight. Obesity, 15, 2748–2760.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hawkins, D. L., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. M. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development, 10(4), 512–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hayden-Wade, H. A., Stein, R. I., Ghaderi, A., Saelens, B. E., Zabinski, M. F., & Wilfey, D. E. (2005). Prevalence, characteristics, and correlates of teasing experiences among overweight children vs. non-overweight peers. Obesity Research, 13, 1381–1392.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kessel Schneider, S., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R. W. S. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300308.
  21. Libbey, H. P., Story, M. T., Neumark-Sztainer, D. R., & Boutelle, K. N. (2008). Teasing, disordered eating behaviors, and psychological morbidities among overweight adolescents. Obesity, 16, S24–S29.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lumeng, J. C., Forrest, P., Appugliese, D. P., Kaciroti, N., Corwyn, R. F., & Bradley, R. H. (2010). Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades. Pediatrics, 125, e1301–e1307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McKenna, M., & Hawk, E. (2011). Bullying among middle school and high school students- Massachusetts, 2009. Journal of the American Medical Association, 305(22), 2283–2286.Google Scholar
  24. Menzel, J. E., Schaefer, L. M., Burke, N. L., Mayhew, L. L., Brannick, M. T., & Thompson, J. K. (2010). Apperance-related teasing, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating: A meta-analysis. Body Image, doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.05.004.
  25. Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among US youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285(16), 2094–2100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Croll, J., Story, M., Hannan, P. J., French, S. A., & Perry, C. (2002). Ethnic/racial differences in weight-related concerns and behaviors among adolescent girls and boys: Findings from Project EAT. Journal of Psychosomatic Research,
  27. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Falkner, N., Story, M., Perry, C., Hannan, P. J., & Mulert, S. (2002b). Weight-teasing among adolescents: Correlations with weight status and disordered eating behaviors. International Journal of Obesity, 26(1), 123–131.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in Body Mass Index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.40.
  29. Peterson, J. L., Puhl, R. M., & Luedicke, J. (2012). Physical education teachers’ and coaches’ reactions to weight-based victimization in youth. Journal of School Health, 82(9), 432–440.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pierce, J. W., & Wardle, J. (1997). Cause and effect beliefs and self-esteem of overweight children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38(6), 645–650.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Procidano, M. E., & Heller, K. (1983). Measures of perceived social support from friends and from family: Three validation studies. American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 1–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2003). Psychosocial origins of obesity stigma: Toward changing a powerful and pervasive bias. Obesity Reviews, 4, 213–227.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Puhl, R. M., & Latner, J. L. (2007). Obesity, Stigma, and the Health of the Nation’s Children. Psychological Bulletin, 133(4), 557–580.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Puhl, R. M., & Luedicke, J. (2012). Weight-based victimization among adolescents in the school setting: Emotional reactions and coping behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 27–40. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9713-z.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Puhl, R. M., Luedicke, J., & Heuer, C. (2011). Weight-based victimization toward overweight adolescents: Observations and reactions of peers. Journal of School Health, 81(11), 696–703.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Puhl, R. M., Peterson, J. L., & Luedicke, J. (In Press). Weight-based victimization: A comprehensive assessment of weight-loss treatment-seeking youth. Pediatrics.Google Scholar
  37. Rubin, D. B. (1987). Multiple imputation for nonresponse in surveys. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schwarz, G. (1978). Estimating the dimension of a model. Annals of Statistics, 6, 461–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Storch, E. A., Milsom, V. A., DeBraganza, N., Lewin, A. B., Geffken, G. R., & Silverstein, J. H. (2007). Peer victimization, psychosocial adjustment, and physical activity in overweight and at-risk-for-overweight youth. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32(1), 80–89.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. van den Berg, P., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Eisenberg, M. E., & Haines, J. (2008). Racial/ethnic differences in weight-related teasing in adolescents. Obesity, 16(Supp 2), S3–S10.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ybarra, M. L., Diener-West, M., & Leaf, P. J. (2007). Examining the overlap in Internet harassment and school bullying: Implications for school intervention. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S42–S50.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zeller, M. H., Reiter-Purtill, J., & Ramey, C. (2008). Negative peer perceptions of obese children in the classroom environment. Obesity, 16(4), 755–762.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Zeller, M. H., Saelens, B. E., Roehrig, H., Kirk, S., & Daniels, S. R. (2004). Psychological adjustment of obese youth presenting for weight management treatment. Obesity Research, 12(10), 1576–1586.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca M. Puhl
    • 1
  • Jamie Lee Peterson
    • 1
  • Joerg Luedicke
    • 1
  1. 1.Rudd Center for Food Policy and ObesityYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations