Teens who are bullied about their weight are at increased risk for alcohol or marijuana use -- and this is especially true for girls, a new study suggests.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,300 students at five public middle schools in Connecticut. The students were asked if siblings, parents or peers had teased them about their weight, body shape or eating during the past six months.
More than half (55%) reported weight-related teasing, including 76% of overweight girls, 71% of overweight boys, 52% of girls who weren't overweight, and 43% of boys who weren't overweight.
Frequent teasing about weight was associated with higher levels of overall alcohol use, binge drinking and marijuana use, though the study could not prove a cause-and-effect link.
A follow-up survey six months later found that weight-related teasing remained linked to increased alcohol use and binge drinking, according to the study published online recently in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
"This type of bullying is incredibly common and has many negative effects for adolescents," said lead study author Melanie Klinck, a clinical research assistant at the University of Connecticut.
The association between appearance-related teasing and substance use was strongest among overweight girls, the researchers said.
"These findings raise larger issues about how society places too much emphasis on beauty and body image for girls and women, and the damaging effects that may result," said study co-author Christine McCauley Ohannessian, director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
"Schools and communities should specifically address appearance-related teasing in anti-bullying policies and substance-use interventions," she said in a journal news release.
"Parents particularly have a role to play in addressing this issue. There is some startling research showing that some of the most hurtful examples of weight-based teasing come from parents or siblings, so families should be kind when they discuss the weight of their children," Ohannessian added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on bullying.