This week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week. During this week, the eating disorders community spotlights the harm that it causes in our society, healthcare system, and specifically in eating disorders treatment and research.
What is Weight Stigma?
Weight stigma is discrimination against or stereotyping others based on their weight. Research shows that weight stigma often comes from healthcare professionals, family members and teachers.
Weight Stigma is…
- When a person changes the way they interact with an individual or makes assumptions about them based on their weight.
- When a doctor assumes a patient exercises a certain amount or eats a certain amount based on their weight.
- A teacher’s comments about their student’s weight when they looks in the child’s lunchbox.
- A poster in a school that associates a child’s weight with certain foods or health outcomes.
- When a parent feeds a child with a larger body differently than a child with a smaller body.
Individuals that experience weight stigma:
- Are more likely to avoid going to the doctor
- Have increased cortisol levels and blood pressure.
- Are at increased risk of depression and low self esteem
- Are at increased risk of engaging in behaviors that are harmful to their health
- And…the thing many think weight stigmatizing comments “help with” – Are more likely to gain weight. (See below for references)
We need to be having a “War On Weight Stigma,” not a war on individuals’ body sizes. The current way we treat individuals with large bodies is causing the very health consequences that we associate with higher weight bodies and that we say we are so concerned about. Weight stigma causes harm and, as parents, we can help change our society and eliminate weight stigma for the health and well being of our children.
3 Facts Parents Need to Know About Weight Stigma:
- No child should hear their body is wrong. It’s typical for a pediatrician to review a child’s growth chart in front of a child at a well child visit. Many pediatricians use arbitrary percentile cutoffs to decide what is a “healthy” or “unhealthy” body and to make nutrition and exercise recommendations. This can be confusing for a child and can be a form of weight stigma. You can ask your healthcare provider to not review growth charts in front of your child. Check out this post written in conjunction with Katja Rowell, MD, including a letter you can send to your child’s healthcare provider.
- People of all sizes can have eating disorders. Weight Stigma prevents providers from diagnosing individuals with eating disorders. If you are worried about your child’s eating, focus on the behaviors you are concerned about, not the child’s weight and challenge your healthcare provider to do the same.
- Your child’s weight is not the problem, our weight stigma-filled society is. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, don’t try to change their body to protect them from bullying and weight stigma. Restricting a child’s intake or telling them they need to lose weight, are themselves forms of weight stigma. Instead, fortify and protect your child from weight stigma, by supporting them and the body they have. Let them know through your words and actions that you love them and trust their body 100%. Just as you would for any sized child, model and support them in health enhancing behaviors that are feasible and appropriate for your family.
The Creation of Weight Stigma Awareness Week
Weight Stigma Awareness Week was originally created by BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) in 2011 when Chevese Turner was BEDA’s director. It is because of her hard work and advocacy and the hard work and advocacy of many others that we have Weight Stigma Awareness Week and are having important conversations and needed change in the eating disorders field.
- Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(6):1019-1028. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491
- Puhl RM, Neumark-Sztainer D, Austin SB, Luedicke J, King KM. Setting policy priorities to address eating disorders and weight stigma: views from the field of eating disorders and the US general public. BMC Public Health. 2014;14:524. Published 2014 May 29. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-524
- Remmert JE, Convertino AD, Roberts SR, Godfrey KM, Butryn ML. Stigmatizing weight experiences in health care: Associations with BMI and eating behaviours. Obes Sci Pract. 2019;5(6):555-563. Published 2019 Nov 12. doi:10.1002/osp4.379