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Bullies More Likely to Develop Eating Disorders


While being bullied has long been associated with eating disorders, new research suggests bullies themselves are at risk for behaviors like binge eating or bulimia.

Researchers from Duke Medicine and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine studied 1,420 children who were divided into four categories: children who were not involved in bullying, victims of bullying, victims and bullies, and just bullies.

Not surprisingly, victims of bullying were generally at an increased risk for developing eating disorders, the researchers reported.

However, bullies themselves also had a significant risk for developing eating disorders - they were 30.8 percent more likely to have bulimic symptoms, compared with 17.6 percent of children who were not involved in bullying.

"Maybe they're good at manipulating social situations or getting out of trouble, but [eating disorders are] one area it seems that's not the case at all," said lead study author William Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. "Maybe teasing others may sensitize them to their own body image issues, or afterward, they have regret for their actions that results in these symptoms like binge eating followed by purging or excess exercise."

Bullies and victims most at risk

Children who were both bullies and victims had the highest rate of anorexia and also the highest prevalence of binge eating and bulimia, the study reported.

The complex relationship between bullying and eating disorders could mean there are lasting, lifelong effects to be dealt with, said co-author Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D.

"Sadly, humans do tend to be most critical about features in other people that they dislike most in themselves," Bulik said. "The bullies' own body dissatisfaction could fuel their taunting of others. Our findings tell us to raise our vigilance for eating disorders in anyone involved in bullying exchanges - regardless of whether they are the aggressor, the victim, or both."

The study is published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Source: Duke Medicine