Weight-Based Victimization Among Adolescents in the School Setting: Emotional Reactions and Coping Behaviors

Abstract

Weight-based victimization is a frequent experience for adolescents, but little is known about their emotional reactions and coping strategies in response to weight-based teasing and bullying. The present study examined the ways that adolescents cope with experiences of weight-based victimization at school. An initial sample of 1,555 students from two high schools in central Connecticut completed a comprehensive battery of self-report measures to assess their experiences of weight-based teasing and bullying at school, affective responses to these experiences, and coping strategies used to deal with incidents of weight-based victimization. Only those students who reported experiencing weight-based victimization (N = 394) were included for the purposes of the present study. Of this sub-sample, 56% were females, 84% were Caucasian, and the mean age was 16.4 years. Weight-based victimization resulted in 40–50% of adolescents feeling sad and depressed, worse about themselves, bad about their body, angry, and some feeling afraid. Gender differences emerged with respect to how boys and girls react to experiences of weight-based victimization. However, structural equation model estimates demonstrated that both boys and girls who reported negative affect in response to weight-based victimization were more likely to use coping strategies of avoidance (e.g., avoiding gym class), increased food consumption, and binge eating. Binary logistic regressions showed that the odds of students skipping school or reporting that their grades were harmed because of weight-based teasing increased by 5% per teasing incident, even after controlling for gender, age, race, grades, and weight status. To our knowledge, this study is the first systematic examination of affective reactions and coping strategies among overweight adolescents in response to weight-based victimization. These findings can inform efforts to assist overweight youth to cope adaptively with weight-based victimization.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The authors would like to thank Chelsea Heuer for her assistance in measurement development and data collection.

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Correspondence to Rebecca M. Puhl.

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Puhl, R.M., Luedicke, J. Weight-Based Victimization Among Adolescents in the School Setting: Emotional Reactions and Coping Behaviors. J Youth Adolescence 41, 27–40 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-011-9713-z

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Keywords

  • Teasing
  • Bullying
  • Victimization
  • Overweight
  • Obesity
  • Coping