Here’s how bullying, obesity can affect girls’ and boys’ mental health

Symptoms of depression are more common in teenage girls than in their male counterparts. However, the mental health of boys seems to be greatly affected when they suffer from obesity. Without regard of gender, bullying is far more dangerous than obesity to develop symptoms of depression. These conclusions are drawn by researchers from Uppsala University who have been monitoring young people for six years in a questionnaire.

The findings were published in the Journal of Public Health.

Sofia Kanders who is a PhD in Technology Uppsala University said that the purpose of their study was to investigate the link between body mass index (BMI) and symptoms of depression and to determine whether abuse affects these relationships over time. They said that they also wanted to investigate whether there were any gender differences.

In the study young people, born in Vastmanland County, answered questions about their height, weight and depressive symptoms in three different periods (2012, 2015 and 2018). Respondents ’age was 14.4 years for the first time and 19.9 years at the end.

Here's how bullying, obesity can affect girls' and boys' mental health
Here’s how bullying, obesity can affect girls’ and boys’ mental health

According to BMI, adolescents are divided into three groups: those who are overweight, obese and normal weight respectively. They are also grouped according to the level of their symptoms of depression.

All in all, apart from their weight, girls often say they have symptoms of depression. Talking about back In the year 2012, 17 percent of girls and 6 percent of boys did so. In 2015, the proportion of young people with these symptoms had risen to 32% of girls and 13 percent of boys.

High BMI has never significantly affected girls’ mental well-being. Among the boys, however, the pattern observed was completely different.

Kanders said that when they analyzed girls and boys separately, we found that for boys who were overweight in 2012, the risk of developing symptoms in 2015 was, five times higher, than boys who were overweight. For girls they did not find such a link.

Research has not been able to answer the question of what causes this gender difference, and researchers think more research is needed in this area.

Young respondents were also asked about bullying – for example, to say that, in the past year, they had experienced beatings and kicks, ridicule or ostracism, cyberbullying, or bullying at school.

Throughout the analysis, exposure to abuse was associated with a higher risk of depressive symptoms. This interaction also became apparent six years later, especially among obese boys. Researchers believe these results appear to indicate a gender difference in how BMI and aggression together drive the development of future depressive symptoms.

Kanders said that one basic conclusion with the message of going home in their study is that bullying can affect mental illness in the long run, making ways to prevent bullying in schools very important.

This study is a sub-project in the larger SALVe (Survey of Adolescent Life in Vestmanland) study. At SALVe, teens born in 1997 and 1999, and living in Vastmanland County (west of Uppsala), were asked in 2012 to answer questions about various ailments, welfare, sleep, computer habits, gambling, school enjoyment and other aspects of their lives.

The aim is to follow this cohort for 20 years to gain insight into how genetics and nature affect mental and physical health.

In the sub-project, 1,729 young people (962 girls and 767 boys) answered researchers’ questions for the first time, in 2012. In the year 2015 there were around 1,481 respondents and in 2018 1,111. This drop in overtime was due to dropouts, with fewer boys compared to girls dropping out of the study.

Adolescents were recruited on the basis of their BMI and increased symptoms of depression. Every answer to the question about how submissive they are to bullying is given a score of 0 to 3. The researchers then compared the overall scores of different groups; that is, they did not evaluate the results at each level.

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