Background

Despite an established link between abuse and aggression in youth, the relation between weight related abuse (WRA) and aggression has rarely been tested. WRA significantly impacts populations with obesity, yet victimization in youth occurs toward both those under and overweight. Because adolescence is a critical social and physical developmental phase, examining the impact of WRA on relations of BMI and aggression during adolescent social interactions is necessary.

Methods

Twenty-nine 11-14-year-olds (F= 48%) completed the Virtual School social interaction paradigm, during which they received evaluation from purported nice, mean or unpredictable peers. Participants could then choose to aggress towards these respective peers by sending an aversive blast of noise. Body Mass Index (BMI; M=20.63, SD= 4.3) was calculated using participants’ height, weight, and age. Experience of WRA (M=.18, SD=.43) was assessed using the WRA Questionnaire (WRAQ). Moderating effects of WRA on BMI and aggression toward different peer-types were tested.

Results

The overall model of BMI, WRA and their interaction significantly predicted aggression toward unpredictable but not nice or mean peers (adjusted R2 =.285, p<.05). Adolescents with more severe WRA and lower BMI exhibited more aggression toward unpredictable peers compared to those with higher BMI (ΔR2 =.127, p<.05).

Conclusions

These data confirm that during adolescence, WRA is a predictor of aggression toward unpredictable peers. Adolescents with lower BMI and more severe WRA may show increased aggression toward unpredictable peers. These findings suggest that aggressive behavior towards peers may be partially predicted by BMI and exposure to WRA. It is possible that internalization of the Western thin ideal in adolescents with higher BMI leads to a blunted affective response to negative peer feedback, whereas adolescents with lower BMI who experience more severe WRA are more reactive to similar feedback.