Weight-based bullying ups alcohol use risks in adolescence
Adolescents bullied about their weight or body shape are more likely to use alcohol or marijuana than others, according to a new study.
According to the study, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the link between appearance-related teasing and substance use was the strongest among overweight girls, raising special concerns about this group.
"This type of bullying is common and has many negative effects for adolescents. The combination of appearance-related teasing and the increased sensitivity to body image during adolescence may create a heightened risk for substance use," said study lead author Melanie Klinck from University of Connecticut in the US.
The study, conducted at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, involved 1,344 students, aged 11-14 years, from five public middle schools near Hartford, Connecticut. They were asked if siblings, parents or peers teased them about their weight, body shape or eating during the past six months.
More than half (55 per cent) of the participants, which included three out of four overweight girls (76 per cent), 71 per cent of overweight boys, 52 per cent of girls and 43 per cent of boys who weren't overweight, reported weight-based teasing.
The participants were also asked about their alcohol and marijuana use.
The study showed frequent weight-based teasing was associated with higher levels of alcohol use, binge drinking and marijuana use.
In a follow-up survey six months later, weight-based teasing was also found to be linked to alcohol use and binge drinking.
Previous research had found boys had greater substance use possibility in their teens and early adulthood, but girls begin taking alcohol and drugs at an earlier age compared with boys.
According to the researchers, those trends may be related to the societal pressures for girls to adhere to unrealistic body image ideals. It can damage their sense of self-worth and contribute to eating disorders and self-medication through substance use to cope with teasing or fit in with peers.
"These findings raise larger issues about how society places too much emphasis on beauty and body image for girls and women, and the damaging effects that may result," said study researcher Christine McCauley Ohannessian.