UAMS Weight-Based Teasing Study in Top 10 2018-06-05T17:54:31+00:00

 Lead author Rebecca Krukowski with College of Public Health colleagues Delia West, Zoran Bursac, Martha Phillips and Dean Jim Raczynski
Lead author Rebecca Krukowski with
College of Public Health colleagues
Delia West, Zoran Bursac,
Martha Phillips and Dean Jim Raczynski

Feb. 6, 2009 | A study led by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) landed in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Top 10 most influential policy research articles published in 2008.

The study, headed by UAMS’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, concluded that student teasing about weight has not increased since Arkansas law began requiring body mass index (BMI) screenings and other changes in schools to address the state’s childhood obesity epidemic.

“This is a great honor and a wonderful tribute to everyone who worked so hard on this project,” said Rebecca Krukowski, Ph.D., lead author and UAMS psychologist.

David Colby, vice president of research and evaluation at RWJF, compiled a list of 25 nominees and opened up voting to the nonprofit’s Web site visitors, Twitter followers and e-mail subscribers. More than 1,400 votes from 48 states were compiled and the College of Public Health study finished at No. 8.

“We thought it was quite an honor to be included in the original list of 25 nominees,” said Delia Smith West, a researcher and psychologist at the College of Public Health. “To be voted into the Top 10 by peers and other professionals in that area speaks volumes for the quality of work that was accomplished.”

The study, which was published in the October issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, countered many fears that a mandate to assess students’ risk for weight-related health conditions would lead to more children being the target of jokes about body fat.

Act 1220, passed in 2003, requires Arkansas public schools to collect BMI data from students, send confidential BMI reports to parents and change vending and physical activity policies to make schools healthier for students and staff. Critics of the law predicted the BMI screening would lead to an upswing in teasing and bullying.

 “In the context of all the measures required by Act 1220 which take place in schools, we found no downside to student BMI assessments,” Krukowski said.

Since the passage of Act 1220, some parents and school officials had voiced concern that BMI tests would focus negative attention on children’s weight. With funding from RWJF, a UAMS research team designed a study to determine if students’ experiences had borne out that concern. The team conducted telephone surveys of 6,417 parents and 1,042 students ages 14 and older who attend public schools in Arkansas. Their surveys were done before BMI testing began and then one and two years after the law was implemented.

The researchers asked parents: “Do others tease, joke or make fun of your child because of his or her weight?” The teen-aged students were asked if they had been the target of such teasing. The UAMS team analyzed the information and adjusted it to account for factors like gender that might influence the results. They found no change in the rates of weight-based teasing. 

Although teasing in Arkansas public schools did not increase after the changes mandated by Act 1220, teasing continues to be a serious issue for children and teens. And this study adds to evidence suggesting that youth are targeted and bullied because of their weight. The findings show:

  • Obese adolescents were almost nine times more likely to be teased than their normal-weight peers.

  • Obese children (younger than 14) were four times more likely to be teased about their weight than their normal-weight peers.

  • Girls were more at risk than boys: One out of nearly seven girls reported being teased about weight.

  • Boys typically do not get teased when they put on extra pounds: Only obese boys were more likely to be teased because of weight.

“We’ve always said we have some of the best researchers and minds in the country focusing on public health issues here at the UAMS College of Public Health,” said Jim Raczynski, dean of the College. “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized among some of the best work done nationally in 2008.”