Disordered eating behaviour leads to a higher risk of being bullied

Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Adolescent expressing sadness.

Today marks the International Day of Pink. It is a day where communities across the country unite, wearing pink, to stand up against all forms of bullying, homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny.

Chances are that you or someone you know was a target of bullying during childhood or adolescence. More than thirty percent of children and adolescents are bullied by their peers and this negative social experience often has long-term consequences on mental health.

Two major psychiatric conditions that have been associated with being bullied are eating disorders and depression.

New research from University of Ottawa Professor, Tracy Vaillancourt and Postdoctoral Fellow, Kirsty S. Lee shows that being bullied by peers during adolescence is directly associated with disordered eating behaviour.

Dr. Vaillancourt and Dr. Lee assessed students in grades 7 to 11, and found that the link between disordered eating behaviour (e.g., vomiting after eating to lose weight, refusing to eat, taking diet pills or laxatives, eating in secret, binge eating) and depression was stronger in girls compared to boys. Even though eating disorders are relatively rare, affecting less than 2 % of the population, most adolescent girls (around 50%) engage in one of more of these types of behaviour.

At every point in the five-year study, they found that disordered eating behaviour was followed by future depressive symptoms. As depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, the findings will have major implications for the role of healthy eating habits in the prevention of low mood and the formation of healthy social relationships among teenagers.

Prior studies have shown that being bullied leads to mental health problems, but this the first study to find that disordered eating behaviour leads to a higher risk of being bullied.

The full research paper: Longitudinal Associations among Bullying by Peers, Disordered Eating Behavior, and Symptoms of Depression during adolescence is published in JAMA Psychiatry.


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