Children who are the victims of bullying have an increased risk for anxiety, depression and eating disorders. New research indicates bullies also have an increased risk of bulimia, an eating disorder.
After studying over 1,400 children, researchers determined that bullies are twice as likely to develop bulimia than their peers are.
“For a long time, there’s been this story about bullies that they’re a little more hale and hearty,” said lead author William Copeland, Ph.D., “Maybe they’re good at manipulating social situations or getting out of trouble, but in this one area it seems that’s not the case at all. Maybe teasing others may sensitize them to their own body image issues, or afterward, they have regret for their actions that results in these symptoms like binge eating followed by purging or excess exercise.”
Other findings of the study include:
- Victims of bullying are two times more likely to develop anorexia or bulimia.
- In comparison to children not involved in bullying, the children with the highest rates of anorexia, binge eating and vomiting were both bullies and victims of bullying.
“Sadly, humans do tend to be most critical about features in other people that they dislike most in themselves,” Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D. said. “The bullies’ own body dissatisfaction could fuel their taunting of others. Our findings tell us to raise our vigilance for eating disorders in anyone involved in bullying exchanges — regardless of whether they are the aggressor, the victim, or both.”
These behaviours can have lifelong implications on children’s health. More research is needed to find out why some children involved in bullying do not experience long-term problems.
The study “Does childhood bullying predict eating disorder symptoms? A prospective, longitudinal analysis is in the December issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.