Monday, March 2, 2009

Weight Stigmatization

As parents, we hope our children will never be picked on because of their weight, and we certainly hope our child will never tease their peers about their weight. According to Wikipdeia, the definition of weight stigma refers to "invidiously discriminatory attitudes towards overweight/obese or underweight/thin individuals that influence interpersonal interactions". Weight stigmatization exits -its time to pull your head out of the sand !

This topic is rather distressing but I think its worth posting because as parents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, friends, medical personnel, school counselors and teachers, we need to give it some consideration. I am reading a series of articles dedicated to this topic and some of the points I've taken from it are as follows (and some are my own views).
  • Weight stigmatization exists across all ethnic groups - it is a problem for all youth.
  • An estimated 26% of adolescent girls and 22% of adolescent boys are teased about their weight (Neumark-Sztainer et al, 2002). This is likely an underestimation of the actual truth.
  • In one study, a quarter to one half of adolescents said the teasing bothered them (van den Berg et al. 2008). Again, this is probably an underestimation of the truth.
  • One study found that teenagers who were teased about their weight were more likely to use unhealthy behaviors such as restricting carbohydrates, fasting, taking laxatives, and vomiting.
Deep is upsetting, isn't it ?

Research in this field also indicates that teasing children/adolescents about weight is related to the following problems:
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Low self esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Increased depression and withdrawal
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Eating disorders
Family members, in particular siblings, may tease each other about their weight. However, the family home should be a safe "no teasing" place for the child. How a family member (in particular caregivers) view a child's body shape, and how they treat that child, is the foundation on which that child builds their self esteem, and how they view their own body image.

What about parents who internalize the idea of 'being thin' and their 'dieting practices', how does this affect a child ? Your children watch your behavior. As one author wrote "Mothers who are obsessed with their weight and hate their bodies teach their daughters to do and feel the same" (Fontaine, 1991). If you do this, you need to stop.

Some of the most widespread consequences of childhood obesity are psychological. The message we need to work on translating to our children is one of 'overall good health'. Pediatric doctors should ask children and teenagers if they are teased about their weight, who is teasing them and the degree to which it bothers them. We need to praise our children for making healthy choices, encourage lots of physical activity and work towards helping our children achieve healthier weights. How do we do this ? Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, take away the video games, stop buying them soda and junk food, and take a sport up with them.....sounds like a lot of work ? It is.


  1. Love it. I am printing and handing out. I know so MANY parents making similar mistakes...perhaps myself every once in a while. It is soooooo important to get this right! Great work!


  2. Thanks Amy !

    It is so important when we consider tha as many as 10 million girls and women and one million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

    (Source: National Mental Health Information Center)

  3. As long as our culture connects thinness with success, love, happiness, and social acceptability, there will be pressure on kids (and everyone else) to be thin, no matter what it takes. We need to buy out of our obsession with weight and put our health first.

  4. Good point Eleanor. However, I do think it's important for adults to stop talking about our their own weight/body issues in front of children.

    But yes, you are right, the obsession is with weight and until we switch it around to 'health', it will be an issue.

    Thanks for commenting !