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When teasing goes too far: The weight of teenage harassment

The teenage years are arguably some of the most difficult. If societal pressures and a teen’s own insecurities about coming-of-age weren’t hard enough, adolescence is often ushered in alongside new levels of teasing and harassment.

Weightism, Racism, Classism, and Sexism: Shared Forms of Harassment in Adolescents,” a new study based on Project EAT 2010 data, took a closer look at harassment among middle- and high-schoolers based on weight, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, as well as sexual harassment.

“Weight-based and race-based harassment were most prevalent, followed by sexual harassment and socioeconomic status based harassment,” said Michaela M. Bucchianeri, Ph.D., lead author for the study. “The results highlight a pattern of cross-harassment such that the prevalence of the various types of harassment reported differed greatly across sociodemographic groups.”

For instance, according to the research, overweight and obese teens reported disproportionately higher rates of all forms of harassment (not solely weight-based) when compared to “normal-weight” and underweight adolescents.

In addition, Asian and mixed-race teens were more vulnerable to harassment overall compared with those from other racial or ethnic groups.

“This suggests adolescents from various intersecting socio-demographic and weight-status groups are particularly vulnerable to heightened amounts of harassment,” said Bucchianeri.

The researchers said these findings are concerning, especially because research suggests being teased in middle school or high school predicts poorer emotional well-being as long as five years later in a person’s life.

“These findings underscore the need for organized efforts to reduce weight bias, and to address all forms of mistreatment among adolescents,” said Bucchianeri. “Extending well beyond the bounds of teasing, the harassment experiences reported by adolescents are prevalent, systematic, and deserve closer attention.”

Conducted by University of Minnesota researchers Michaela M. Bucchianeri, Ph.D., Marla E. Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H., and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, R.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., “Weightism, Racism, Classism, and Sexism: Shared Forms of Harassment in Adolescents,” was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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