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Bullying in a good cause?

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


Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Jon Healey

Hey Mike, I think you mean "Hate the sin, love the sinner." Unless, of course, you're talking about a sect with a particularly fierce reading of the Old Testament.

Michael McGough

Jon: There's a thin line between love and hate, but, yes, I meant "hate the sin, love the sinner" or, in this case, "starve the sinner."

Nat, age 14

Basically, your point is that bullying is actually helping the chubby people, right? But what if bullying actually worsens situation, like how bullying might make the fat people or normal people stressed out, which might cause some side effect which makes them obese or more obese. Isn't this going to effect the solvency of the healthcare system even more negatively?

Michael McGough

Nat: Thanks for the comment. I think I must not have made myself clear. I'm against bullying fat kids and I think anti-fat propaganda can have harmful effects. Keep reading and commenting!



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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