Wednesday 26 October 2016

Obese children miss school because of bullying fears

Bullying can be devastating for children
Bullying can be devastating for children

OBESE children are being bullied so badly they are missing school.

Clinical psychologist Dr Aoife Brinkley, who works at the child obesity service at Temple Street Children's University Hospital, said seven out of 10 children at the clinic have reported bullying, with one in 10 experiencing severe bullying that can result in self-harm, depression and anxiety disorders.

With a quarter of Irish children classed as overweight or obese, it is thought more and more will be psychologically affected by bullying, as a new international report pinpointed weight as the most common form of playground teasing.

Dr Brinkley said obese children can be so badly affected by bullying that they can no longer face going to school.

"We see kids refusing to go to school. We would have a little group that have struggled or missed a huge amount of school because of the bullying they have experienced," she said.


Dr Brinkley said she has seen bullying resulting in some children becoming so socially anxious that they cannot go outside their house.

"We would have a lot of children who have attempted to hurt themselves and harm themselves," she said.

"We would have children with depression, symptoms of anxiety. There is a lot of social anxiety where children or teenagers are struggling to go outside because they feel so self-conscious.

"It can become a vicious cycle where a young person teased or bullied doesn't want to leave the house and is gaining weight because they are not leaving the house."

Dr Brinkley said bullying can have much more serious consequences towards the end of primary school

"At about the age of eight or nine it can start to have a more devastating impact," she said.

"Maybe they have been bullied on and off from third class and fourth class, but maybe things continuing into fifth class and sixth class, meaning transition to secondary school is particularly difficult."

Dr Brinkley said a survey of children with obesity attending the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles Programme in Temple Street, which sees an average of 150 obese children a year, showed 57pc experienced moderate bullying with 11pc subjected to severe bullying.

"With girls it tends to be name-calling, being left out of games," she said. "As they get older it tends to be more of a serious nature. Targeted exclusion over a period of time, repeated comments, and we have had some children where there has been quite serious cyber-bullying on social media.

"It could be name-calling or sarcastic comments.

"There can be a very subtle, sinister element to it that can be quite hard to define. The impact of that is no less severe than when it is direct," she said.

Any parents with concerns about the health of their children should speak to their GP or public health nurse or check www.w82go.ie.

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