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Weight Status, Bullying Involvement, and Internalizing Symptomology in Adolescents: Examining a Diathesis-Stress Model

Ana Medea Damme, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Bullying is a pervasive societal issue that is consistently linked to negative outcomes that are emotionally, socially, behaviorally, and medically related. Most youth will encounter this negative life event in their childhood whether through perpetration, victimization, or observation. The purpose of this dissertation was to use a diathesis-stress model perspective to assess the relations between the negative life event of bullying involvement, youths’ mental health, and youth weight status. Youth who have an unhealthy weight status, such as overweight, obese, or underweight are more likely to be involved in bullying than those with a healthy weight status (Browne, 2012; Puhl, Peterson, & Luedicke, 2013). Additionally, experiencing bullying and having an unhealthy weight status are both related to issues with internalizing symptomology (i.e., anxiety, depression; Brixval, Rayce, Rasmussen, Holstein, & Due, 2012; Fox & Farrow, 2009; Puhl & Latner, 2007; Warkentin, Borghese, & Janssen, 2017). Having an unhealthy weight status does not inherently cause individuals to have mental health concerns; rather, it was hypothesized that bullying involvement as a negative life event would serve as a catalyst for those with unhealthy weight statuses, as their weight serves as an individual vulnerability or diathesis, to develop internalizing symptomology. Data were collected from adolescents (ages 11-18) who participated in a larger study. The current study found a statistically significant association between bullying involvement and weight status. Additionally, the study found that together, weight status and bullying involvement predict depressive and anxious symptomology, separately. As a result, the current study further supports the immense literature base that involvement in bullying predicts higher levels of internalizing symptomology. However, the current study found that those experiences may differ by gender and that involvement in the bullying dynamic may moderate the experience between weight status and internalizing symptomology. Also, results showed that internalizing symptomology differed for healthy and unhealthy weight statuses, but that specific weight status differed for anxious and depressive symptomology. This research demonstrated that bullying involvement served as a moderating variable for underweight females who experience bullying involvement and report higher levels of anxious symptomology when compared to those uninvolved in bullying. Although this research does not fully support a diathesis-stress model in which bullying consistently serves as a catalyst for developing internalizing symptomology, it does advance the field by providing further empirical support of the complex relationship between weight status, bullying involvement, and internalizing symptomology. Implications for research and clinical practices as well as study limitations are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Behavioral psychology|Educational sociology|Developmental psychology|Educational psychology|Counseling Psychology|Mental health|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Damme, Ana Medea, "Weight Status, Bullying Involvement, and Internalizing Symptomology in Adolescents: Examining a Diathesis-Stress Model" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13895489.