Does having an eating disorder increase your chance of being bullied?
Past research has made it clear that teens who have been the victim of bullying from a young age are significantly more likely to develop an eating disorder. Now, a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests the reverse may hold true as well.
“In some kids, disordered eating might lead to bullying,” wrote Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychologist from the University of Ottawa.
This is the conclusion that Vaillancourt and colleague Kristy Lee came to after evaluating a group of more than 600 students as part of a Canadian study on mental health and bullying.
The students took the survey once a year from grades 7 to 11, allowing the researchers to track the development of mental health issues and social experiences.
The questions specifically inquired about how often someone had been bullied, their moods, and disordered eating behaviors like purging or eating in secret.
While the study was not designed to specifically diagnose eating disorders, it did track these disordered eating behaviors that are often early signs of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Shockingly, nearly half of all high school girls said they participated in at least one of the disordered eating behaviors mentioned in the survey. Approximately one in three boys also exhibited disordered eating signs.
While the findings showed that bullying preceded eating disorders at several points in the study, it also identified two time periods (between grades 8 and 9, as well as between grades 10 and 11) where disordered eating behaviors preceded the development of bullying.
As for why disordered eating behaviors could trigger being bullied by peers, the researchers were not entirely sure.
“It’s possible they already are dealing with mental health difficulties,” suggested Vaillancourt.
The researchers also implied that difficulties at home, which were not tracked by the study, could play a role.
The relatively small study raises many questions about how peers respond to eating disorders and how social experiences may contribute to mental health issues, however, there is one particularly interesting takeaway from the findings; if teens are able to identify peers with eating disorders, it provides a unique opportunity to provide help or support.
If you or someone you know is living with an eating disorder, please call Brookhaven for help at 888-298-HOPE (4673). We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.