Few studies have comprehensively examined weight-based victimization (WBV) in youth, despite its serious consequences for their psychosocial and physical health. Given that obese and treatment-seeking youth may be highly vulnerable to WBV and its negative consequences, the current study provides a comprehensive assessment of WBV in a weight loss treatment–seeking sample.
Adolescents (aged 14–18 years; N = 361) enrolled in 2 national weight loss camps were surveyed. An in-depth assessment of WBV was conducted by using an online survey, in which participants indicated the duration, typical locations, frequent perpetrators, and forms of WBV they had experienced.
Findings indicate that 64% of the study participants reported WBV at school, and the risk of WBV increased with body weight. Most participants reported WBV enduring for 1 year (78%), and 36% were teased/bullied for 5 years. Peers (92%) and friends (70%) were the most commonly reported perpetrators, followed by adult perpetrators, including physical education teachers/sport coaches (42%), parents (37%), and teachers (27%). WBV was most frequently reported in the form of verbal teasing (75%–88%), relational victimization (74%–82%), cyberbullying (59%–61%), and physical aggression (33%–61%). WBV was commonly experienced in multiple locations at school.
WBV is a prevalent experience for weight loss treatment–seeking youth, even when they are no longer overweight. Given the frequent reports of WBV from adult perpetrators in addition to peers, treatment providers and school personnel can play an important role in identifying and supporting youth who may be at risk for pervasive teasing and bullying.