Appearance-Related Teasing and Substance Use During Early Adolescence
Appearance-related teasing is a pervasive form of bullying during adolescence. Yet, the impact of appearance-related teasing on risk for alcohol and marijuana use is unknown. This study, therefore,examined the relationship between appearance-related teasing and the use of alcohol and marijuana.
The sample was 1,344 students (52% female; 51% non-Hispanic White; ages 11–14 years, M 13.20, SD 0.65) from 5 public middle schools. Participants completed a survey that assessed demographic characteristics, weight status, depressive symptoms, general peer victimization, experiences of appearance related teasing perpetrated by family and peers, and substance use in the fall of 2016 (Time 1 [T1]) andspring of 2017 (T2).
Findings at baseline (T1) indicated that more frequent appearance-related teasing was associated with higher concurrent levels of total alcohol consumption, binge alcohol use, and marijuana use (ps < .001). Longitudinally, more frequent appearance-related teasing at T1 predicted greater increases in total alcohol consumption (p < .01) and binge alcohol use frequency (p < .05) by T2 but was unrelated to changes in marijuana use (p > .05), adjusting for age, gender, race and ethnicity, perceived socioeconomic status, body mass index z scores, depressive symptoms, general peer victimization frequency, and substance use at T1. Moderation analyses generally suggested that the positive associations between appearance-related teasing and alcohol use measures were stronger among adolescents who were girls (vs. boys) and who were overweight or obese (vs. non overweight).
These findings suggest that appearance-related teasing may play a role in the origins of alcohol use during early adolescence and emphasize the need to mitigate the effects of appearance-related teasing and prevent early substance use.
Implications of the study
The study essentially finds that there is a link between teens being bullied about their weight and bodies and the likelihood that they’ll use and abuse alcohol and marijuana, and this is specifically true for young girls.
Students answered questions about teasing from siblings, parents and peers regarding weight, body shape and eating in the last six months and more than half of them (55%) reported they’d experienced some degree of that teasing. Notably, 76% (three out of four) overweight girls and 71% overweight boys said they’d been teased about their bodies and 52% girls and 43% boys, who weren’t overweight said they’d experienced it too.
The students who reported weight-related teasing were more likely to use alcohol, to binge drink and to use marijuana (both in the initial survey and during the six month follow-up).
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 Dr. Christine McCauley Ohannessian, study coauthor and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, as per, sheknows.
The researchers say,
- school and community programs should take time to specifically address bullying about appearance when they talk to students about their anti-bullying policies and in programs about substance-use intervention, and
- parents and guardians should also be more mindful about the ways they might be contributing to the problem.
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, ” added Dr. Ohannessian, as per, sheknows.