Children who are teased while playing sports tend to have a worse quality of life than their non-teased peers, a new study suggests. Some of them may also become less active over time.
"Teasing not only influences psychological functioning but may reduce physical activity and lead to poorer physical, social, and emotional functioning for children," Chad D. Jensen told Reuters Health in an email. He led the study at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
The link between teasing and less physical activity is particularly concerning considering most children are already not exercising as much as they should.
Previous research shows less than one in 10 children meets the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recommendation to participate in at least one hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity every day.
Jensen and his colleagues surveyed 108 kids, aged nine to 12, in 2010 and again in 2011. They asked kids about their participation in 21 different types of physical activity before, during and after school and how often they had been teased while playing sports or exercising since kindergarten.
The researchers also asked the kids how well they functioned physically, emotionally, with friends and at school. Together those measures were used to determine children's health-related quality of life.
Children who were teased reported a worse quality of life than those who were not.
In particular, overweight and obese kids who reported being teased on the first survey had a poorer quality of life both initially and again one year later, the researchers write in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
"Negative effects of teasing appear to be persistent, affecting important outcomes one year after teasing is reported," Jensen said.
Normal-weight kids who reported being teased on the first survey were more likely to become less active over the next year. For overweight and obese children, teasing reported in year two was linked to less physical activity the same year.
"School policy makers are encouraged to think of this form of peer victimization as a direct threat to children's health outcomes," write Jensen and his co-authors.
"These findings provide support for comprehensive bullying prevention programs and suggest that efforts to reduce peer victimization in the context of physical activity participation may be helpful in promoting physical activity participation and children's quality of life," Jensen said.
David Palmiter, a psychologist at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said the findings are not surprising.
"Being teased or being bullied in any kind of an ongoing way itself is a symptom . . . and worsens symptoms," he said. Kids who are teased "often have vulnerabilities," such as low self-esteem, before the teasing starts.
"Any kid, no matter how healthy they are, can have isolated instances of bullying," he told Reuters Health. But a pattern of consistent bullying probably points to inner pain in the child who is bullied, said Palmiter, who wasn't involved in the new research.
He said one way to address or prevent repeated teasing is to increase the size of children's friend circles, so they're not always on the fringes. That way, "They can travel from class to class with a pack," he said.
Parents can arrange sleepovers and other activities with children's peers outside of school and boost their children's confidence by identifying their areas of strength and making sure they are regularly exposed to these areas.
In addition, Palmiter stressed the importance of parents spending one-on-one time with their children, focused entirely on what the child is doing or saying.
He also echoed Jensen's sentiment about the importance of comprehensive bullying prevention programs.
"Every school should have an anti-bullying program," Palmiter said.