Here’s some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics on ways the media, schools, health providers, family and friends can reduce the stigma of being obese. Hint. Hint. Stay positive.
Weight stigma does harm to children and adolescents. The negative effects of weight stigma are real and are well documented by research. Sadly, children and adolescents struggling with their weight are also hurt by weight stigma, often propagated and tolerated because of beliefs that guilt and blame will motivate people to lose weight. However, rather than motivate positive change, this stigma contributes to behaviors such as binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of health care services, decreased physical activity, and increased weight gain, which worsen obesity and create additional barriers to healthy behavior change. Basically, guilt, blame, and shame don’t motivate long-term healthy change, they just make people feel bad, and worse, likely lead to worsening obesity.
The new AAP Policy Statement Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents with Obesity will be published in the December issue of Pediatrics and addresses weight stigma, an often under-recognized issue affecting children and families struggling with obesity. So many factors play into the development of obesity, including genetic and socioeconomic factors, environmental contributors, community assets, family and cultural traditions, and individual choices. This recognition can help dispel common assumptions and stereotypes that place blame and judgment solely on individuals for having excess weight or difficulty achieving weight loss. So, what can we do?
- Role Model. Demonstrate supportive and nonbiased behaviors toward children and families with obesity.
- Language and Word Choice. Use appropriate, sensitive, and non-stigmatizing language when communicating about weight with youth, families, and colleagues. Use people first language. http://www.obesityaction.org/weight-bias-and-stigma/people-first-language-for-obesity
- Behavior Change Counseling. Use patient–centered, empathetic behavior change approaches, such as motivational interviewing, as a framework to support patients and families in making healthy changes. You can play with a free motivational interviewing training simulator from the American Academy of Pediatrics here: https://go.kognito.com/changetalk
- Indoor Environment. Create a safe, welcoming, and non-stigmatizing environment, such as being sure to have chairs that can accommodate larger people and appropriate non-stigmatizing reading material.
- Ask about self-esteem and bullying. Check in with your children and students to see if they have experienced bullying, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
Advocating Against Weight Stigma
- Schools. Work with schools to ensure antibullying policies include protections for students who are bullied about their weight.
- Youth-Targeted Media. Advocate for the responsible and respectful portrayal of individuals with obesity in the media. The UConn Rudd Center has some great guidelines for the appropriate portrayal of people with obesity.
- Parents. It is important to work to empower families and students on how to manage and address weight stigma in schools, communities and homes.
- Additional stigma. Rates of obesity are higher in communities that are socioeconomically challenged and in communities of color, therefor additional stigma attributable to race, socioeconomics, and gender could further compound weight stigma experienced by some individuals, families, and communities.