The Number-One Reason Kids Are Bullied


Being overweight is the most common reason kids are picked on, according to a new study. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you were “fat” as a child, there’s a good chance you were picked on because of it. And new research shows that childhood bullying may be a major reason why it’s harder to lose weight as an adult.

Seven out of 10 adults, from a survey of thousands in four different countries, say that weight is the predominant reason kids are targeted for bullying, far outweighing race, sexual orientation, disability, religion or academic ability. Past polls of teachers have further confirmed that overweight kids are the primary victims of class bullies. Three quarters of study participants — who were from the United States, Canada, Iceland and Australia — said that schools need to raise awareness on weight-based bullying and adopt policies that protect overweight kids. Currently, there are no federal laws that promise equal treatment to those who are overweight.

Now, a child’s weight should not be blamed for their own bullying, rather, such behavior is due to inherent psychological and self-esteem issues of the bully him- or herself. But parents can implement home behaviors to keep kids healthier both now and as future adults: A new Michigan State study found that, for women, childhood stress is a more important driver of long-term weight gain than adult stress.

To break the cycle, here are 8 family habits that can help both you and your kids live leaner lives — while at the same time stacking the odds in their favor against bullying.

Healthy Ritual #1
Pass bowls family style.

You may think you’re imposing portion control by dishing out servings for your kids, but in fact, you’re robbing them of a very important lesson. When kids serve themselves, they learn to read their own body’s hunger cues, according to a recent study printed in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Children who are given control at the dinner table are also more likely to try new foods, the researchers said.

Healthy Ritual #2
Leave a little something on the plate.

Whether it’s a Clean Plate Club membership drive or castigations about starving kids in Africa, efforts by parents to get their children to eat healthy foods can backfire. In a study of 63 children, Cornell researchers found that those whose parents insisted on clean plates ate 35 percent more of a sweetened cereal later in the day. If kids ate 35 percent more than 1 serving of Froot Loops every day for a year, they’d gain 4 pounds! Rather than forbidding certain foods, set up specific parameters for when treats can be enjoyed: for example, no less than one hour before bedtime, or only after a half hour of exercise outdoors. And serve them weight-loss meals they’re sure to love using these quick and easy 8 Best-Ever Superfoods for a Flat Stomach!

Healthy Ritual #3
Make the meal last 4 ½ minutes longer.

That’s the difference between how long healthy-weight kids spend at the dinner table, and how long overweight kids spend there—18 minutes on average for the slim kids and 13.5 for the heavier ones. That might not make a lot of sense—more time at the table means more time to eat, right? But in fact, eating slower means eating more mindfully, and not shoveling down food in an attempt to get back to whatever else is on your mind. And stick with them, too: Families who eat together stay lean together. In fact, in one study, 80 percent of healthy weight kids ate dinner with their families at the table, compared to 55 percent of overweight kids.

Healthy Ritual #4
Put away electronics.

Say “nevermore” to Evermoor and snap off Snapchat. Parents who let their teens use electronic devices or watch TV during family meals tend to serve less nutritious food and have poorer family communication, a new study by the University of Minnesota suggests. Researchers found families that reported frequent media use at meal times also served up less fresh fruit and vegetables and more sugar-sweetened beverages. In fact, distracted eating is almost as dangerous as distracted driving: A separate study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that distracted eaters consumed 10 percent more in one sitting than they would otherwise. (While you’re sliding that iPad to “off,” also check out these panel-tested 14 Ways to Wake Up with Zero Belly!)

Healthy Ritual #5
Use smaller bowls and plates.

Our eyes always tend to be bigger than our stomachs. A recent Cornell study found bigger bowls (16 oz vs 8 oz) caused children to request 87% more food, and eat 52% more of it, than they would otherwise. And while adults aren’t as susceptible to the visual illusion, research printed in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found larger bowls caused people to serve and eat an average of 16% more. Control what you can. Splitting a dish at a restaurant with a sibling is never a bad idea—as long as you ask for two toys. At home, use smaller bowls, plates, and utensils.

Healthy Ritual #6
Ask them if they’re hungry.

Researchers at the University of Illinois suggest that asking the right questions can help children listen to important hunger and satiety signals. So acknowledging an empty plate with a question like “Are you full?” or “If you’re hungry, you can have some more,” is more conducive to teaching intuitive eating habits than a simple: “Are you done?” If you haven’t quite mastered the art of ending a meal when you’re only 80% full, don’t worry. Stop when you think you’re at 80%, and if you get hungry later, rely on our satisfying and slimming Eat This, Not That!-approved 25 High-Protein Snacks for Weight Loss.

Healthy Ritual #7
Have Dad set the example.

In less than five years, the percentage of our calories that come from food outside the home has risen to 43 percent—the highest since the USDA began tracking such statistics. Parents’ increasing penchant for restaurant food or delivery can translate to nutritionally unsound decisions by kids. One study laid the heaviest blame on fathers. Researchers at Texas A&M University say dads carry the most influence largely because when they take their kids to, say, Burger King, it’s often as a treat. This enforces the idea that unhealthy eating is positive. Next time it’s Day with Daddy, choose a restaurant without Big Macs.

Healthy Ritual #8
Try all sorts of new foods.

Nowadays, kids avoid vegetables like they’re out-of-style sneakers; only one in five of them actually eats enough plant matter. If you want to reverse that trend, a little scheming can go a long way. Research out of England found that giving children a taste of a new vegetable daily for 2 weeks increased their enjoyment and consumption of that food. Giving kids ownership over what they eat is also a powerful play. Turn a trip to the supermarket into a treasure hunt, and let them try to find produce they’ve never eaten before; letting your children choose their vegetables can lead to an 80 percent increase in their consumption.

And if you’re looking for a quick way to turbocharge your own weight-loss, try our brand new plan, The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Diet and Cleanse. Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in just one week!

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