Kids Can Be Tougher on Obese Peers

Study found this way especially true if children felt 'problem' traits were others' own fault

SUNDAY, Oct. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Children are more apt to dislike obese peers and others with an "undesirable trait" if they believe it's the child's own fault, according to new research.

The study included 137 third- through eighth-grade students who were asked to respond to statements about six hypothetical boys who were either a poor student or poor athlete, extremely overweight, extremely aggressive, extremely shy, or had symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The Kansas State University researchers presented the hypothetical boys as real and said the boys had been asked if they were trying to do anything to fix their undesirable trait and whether their attempts had been successful.

The students then rated their attitudes towards the boys. The results showed that the more the students believed the boy was at fault for his undesirable trait, the more they would tease and make fun of him, and the less they would help him if he needed it.

Boys who were overweight and aggressive were disliked the most because the students believed they were to blame for their own problem and lacked the desire and motivation to change it, the findings showed.

The researchers also found that girls tended to feel more kindly than boys toward peers with undesirable traits, unless those traits were obesity and aggressiveness.

There was some good news.

"If the students think that the child has tried to change, that tends to positively influence how they anticipate interacting with that peer," study author Mark Barnett, a psychology professor, said in a university news release. "They really liked kids who are successful in overcoming their problem, but they also really liked kids who tried and put effort into changing."

The study is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how parents can bully-proof their children.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Kansas State University, news release, Oct. 10, 2011

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