Opinion: Bullying in a good cause?

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As any viewer of morning television knows, the perennial campaign to ‘save the children’ is being fought on two fronts. One is the war on bullying. The other is the crusade against childhood obesity. But suppose the two causes are in conflict.

U.S. News and World Report has posted a story confirming what all fat kids know: that they’re bully bait. Here’s the skinny, as it were, on what the magazine discovered:


New research suggests that just being overweight increases the risk of being bullied. And factors that usually play a role in the risk of being bullied, such as gender, race and family income levels, don’t seem to matter if you’re overweight -- being overweight or obese trumps all those other factors when it comes to aggressive behavior from other children. The study found that being overweight increased the risk of being the target of bullying by 63 percent.

At first glance, it might seem that these data strengthen the case for anti-obesity initiatives such as the removal of soft drink machines from schools and the Obama family’s no-chocolate Easter egg roll. Fewer fat kids means less bullying, right?

But look at it another way: As I have suggested before, the media assault on childhood obesity can only make life harder for fat kids who don’t shape up. Sure, health zealots can invoke a variation of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ but the fact remains that demonizing obesity provides a cloak of respectability for the bullying of chubby kids. These days, they aren’t just funny-looking; they’re threats to the national health (and the solvency of the healthcare system).

The phenomenon cited by U.S. News undermines another bit of conventional wisdom: that childhood obesity is an ‘epidemic.’ If that were the case, fat kids would be soon be in the majority, and skinny kids would be at risk of being bullied. For fat kids that would be a big helping of poetic justice.

-- Michael McGough