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Weight, body image and bullying in 9-year-old children


  • Conflict of interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
  • Financial disclosure: Growing Up in Ireland data have been funded by the Government of Ireland through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; have been collected under the Statistics Act, 1993, of the Central Statistics Office. The project has been designed and implemented by the joint ESRI-TCD Growing Up in Ireland Study Team. © Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The first author is supported by the Health Research Board of Ireland through the HRB Centre for Primary Care Research under Grant HRC/2007/1. The second author is supported by a Research Studentship through the Irish Lung Foundation.

Correspondence: Professor Tom O'Dowd, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity College Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Tallaght Hospital, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland. Fax: +353 1 4031211; email:



To explore the association between weight and bullying; considering victims and perpetrators as two aspects of bullying, and subjective perception and objective measurement as two aspects of weight.


This study is based on the first wave of data collection from Growing Up in Ireland – the National Longitudinal Study of Children. The two-stage sample design included a sample of 910 primary schools in Ireland, from which a sample of 8568 nine-year-old children and their families was randomly selected. Analysis is based on statistically reweighted data to ensure that it is representative of all 9-year-olds in Ireland.


Significantly (P < 0.001) more girls were overweight or obese (33.1%: 23.1% overweight and 10% obese) than boys (25.2%: 18.3% and 6.9%). Children who were body mass index (BMI) classified as overweight or obese were significantly (P < 0.001) more likely to be victimised when compared with children whose BMI was not classified as overweight or obese. BMI-classified thinness was not significantly associated with victimisation; however, the body image of being skinny or very skinny was significantly (P = 0.015) associated with being victimised. Bullying perpetration was not associated with BMI-derived weight classification but was significantly (P < 0.001) associated with the child's own self-description of weight.


Overall body image was found to have a stronger association with victimisation and bullying perpetration than objective BMI-derived weight classification. Further research investigating the mediating role of body image in the relationship between weight, victimisation and bullying is necessary to better understand this association.