The Weight of Stigma: Children


Last week, I wrote about some of the key issues surrounding weight stigma and shared some of the research that indicates weight stigma damages health.

The research I have shared already refers to stigma towards adults, but it is also important to talk about weight stigma among children. We so often hear the media discuss "childhood obesity" and we focus on how we can "win the war" or "beat the bulge", forgetting that little ears are listening.

Children hear and understand far more than we give them credit for.

Don't agree? Maybe some research will convince you!

Jendrzyca & Warschburger 2016 (research carried out in Germany).

  • Approximately 12.2% of children reported being teased about their weight.

  • Girls reported higher levels of weight stigma, as well as higher levels of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviours.

  • Weight stigma was positively associated with weight (the heavier the child, the higher the change of stigma). Children classified as obese on the BMI scale were 4.56 times more likely to have experienced weight stigma.

  • Higher weight children had higher incidence of body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and restrained eating.

Nolan & Eshleman 2016 (this study assessed children and adults).

  • Children were more aware of stigma than adults.

  • Weight stigma was frequently internalized as guilt, leading to lowered self-esteem.

  • Overweight and obese children appear to alter their behaviour around lean children, E.G. consume fewer calories than when they are alone.

  • Weight stigma acted as a barrier to activity, with many children feeling self-conscious during activities or being worried about other children seeing their body.

  • Stigmatization or victimization on the basis of weight reduced participation, particularly in sport and activity.

  • Adolescent girls- have the highest body dissatisfaction. Although many perceived their weight as higher than it actually is. Many were dieting.

  • Adolescent boys- Less likely to diet than girls, but did use other unhealthy weight control behaviours, such as skipping meals and using laxatives.

Perez et al. 2016 (group of mothers and daughters assessed, children aged 3-7)

Mother’s body dissatisfaction significantly and positively predicted daughter’s body dissatisfaction (and same with satisfaction).

Girls seemed to model their mother's body self-talk.

Tatangelo et al. 2016.

Parental influence appears to be most important influence on child's body image.

Zuba & Warschburger 2017.

"The experience of weight teasing and internalization of weight bias is more important than weight status in explaining psychological functioning among children."

Berge et al. 2016.

  • Children reported the highest prevalence of negative weight-based talk from siblings.

  • There was a higher prevalence of negative weight-based talk from mothers and older brothers.

  • In households with younger brothers, children reported less negative weight-based talk compared to other household compositions.

  • Mothers’ negative weight-based talk focused on concerns about child health, whereas fathers’ and siblings’ negative weight-based talk focused on appearance and included teasing.

Key points from the research:

If you talk negatively about your own body, children pick up on it and tend to adopt that behaviour too.

Parents appear to have the greatest influence on children's body image and body talk.

Weight stigma impacts children's desire to participate in activities and exercise.

Weight stigma tends to have adverse affects on child health, leading to poor body image, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.

It is also important to mention that the younger weight stigma is perceived the worse the health outcomes. Because stigma is associated with disordered eating, low self-esteem, avoidance of healthcare etc., the longer it goes on the greater the impact on health.

We know that the age at which children report body dissatisfaction is getting younger and younger and that the age at which eating disorders are being diagnosed is younger- weight stigma is adding to this. Weight stigma is part of the problem, not the solution.

We need to do better for our children!

Lots of love,

Little O x

#weightbias #dietculture #heath #healthy #healthyliving #haes #healthateverysize #nutrition #weightstigma #weightloss #diets #nondiet #nondietnutrition #chldhood #adolescence #childhoodnutrition #stigma #eatingdisorders #obesity #childhoodobesity

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