Eating Disorders Raise Risk of Being Bullied Interview with:

Tracy Vaillancourt, Ph.D. Full Professor and Canada Research Chair Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention Counselling Psychology, Faculty of Education  School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences  University of Ottawa

Dr. Vaillancourt

Tracy Vaillancourt, Ph.D.
Full Professor and Canada Research Chair
Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention
Counselling Psychology, Faculty of Education
School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Ottawa What is the background for this study?

Response: Although there have been a few studies that have looked at the relation between being bullied and disordered eating, most studies have looked at it from the perspective of does being bullied lead to disordered eating and does depressive symptoms mediate (i.e., explain) the link. We wanted to look more closely at how bullying, disordered eating, and depression were related over time among teenagers by examining all possible pathways.

Another novel aspect of our study was the focus on disordered eating behaviour only (e.g., vomiting, using diet pills, binge eating). Most previous work has examined behaviour and thoughts together, but because disordered eating thoughts are so common (termed normative discontent; e.g., fear of fat, dissatisfaction with body shape or size), particularly among girls and women, we wanted to focus on behaviour, which is more problematic in terms of physical and psychiatric health. What are the main findings? 

Response: First, we found that the link between disordered eating behaviour and depression was stronger in girls compared to boys. Girls were also more likely to be bullied by their peers.

Second, we found that disordered eating behaviour increased the risk of being bullied. This is probably because eating disorders are highly stigmatised and people mistakenly believe that people with this disorder are attention seeking.

The third key finding was that in every year of the study, disordered eating behaviour was followed by future depressive symptoms. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Most previous studies have shown that bullying leads to poor mental health, but this is one of the first to show poor mental health, and specifically disordered eating behaviour, can increase the risk of being bullied.

Another take home message is that because depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, healthy eating habits may play a major role in the prevention of low mood in teenagers. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: The study raises some interesting results that should be replicated in other samples. Researchers also need to pay attention the possibility of alternative pathways when they are testing their hypotheses. 


Lee KS, Vaillancourt T. Longitudinal Associations Among Bullying by Peers, Disordered Eating Behavior, and Symptoms of Depression During Adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online April 11, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0284

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Last Updated on April 13, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD