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Unfortunately, overweight and obese children and teens endure weight-based stigma and bias on a daily basis; and tragically, the consequences of weight-based teasing and victimization can be severe:

Sixty percent of highly obese children and teens report being victimized at school and this victimization greatly increases the odds of co-occurring depression, body image disorders and low self esteem.

  • Youth who are victimized about weight are 2 to 3 times as likely to exhibit suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
  • Obese children are more likely to be socially ostracized and less likely to be chosen as a friend
  • Overweight and obese children and teens who are teased about their weight are more likely to develop binge eating disorder and to engage in unhealthy methods of weight control

As a parent to an overweight or obese child or teen you can’t protect them from all weight-based stigma and victimization, but you can do a lot to help your child cope with any maltreatment. Here are 7 ways that you can counteract the effects of weight based stigma and victimization

7 Ways to Counteract Weight-Based Stigma and Victimization

1. Check Yourself First – Are You A Source of Stigma?

34% of overweight boys and 47% of overweight girls report being teased or victimized about weight in the family home.1

Is your home a stigma free zone? Check yourself to make sure that you’re not unintentionally contributing to the problem through the inadvertent communication of weight stigma messages.

Do you ever make judgments about a person’s character based on weight? Do you think fat people are less intelligent, lazier or greedier than people of a healthy weight? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should think hard about the accuracy of the stereotypes you rely on and about whether or not your beliefs are contributing to a problem in the home.

2. Get Educated about Obesity and Pass That Info Along

Obesity is not a simple condition caused by a single, easy to change behavior.

Obesity is caused by the interplay of environmental, genetic, biological and behavioral factors. Understanding the complexity of the situation puts you in a better position to move towards a healthier weight and to gain more acceptance about why you, or your children, may struggle with obesity.

3. Think about the Language You Use to Describe Weight and Appearance

Be careful about the language you use to describe yourself and others. Words like fat and chubby have negative connotations that go far beyond the description of a physical state.

Need to lose a few pounds, don’t say, “I’m too fat”, say, "I need to lose a few pounds to get to a healthier weight."

4. Make Efforts to Lose Weight about Health and Not about Appearance

Obesity isn’t healthy, so making an effort towards achieving a healthier weight is important, but be sure to motivate weight loss for health, and not appearance benefits.

When weight loss is encouraged for appearance’s sake you may be contributing to feelings of low self worth and body image problems.

5. Help Your Child to Identify with Positive Overweight Adult Role Models

A pop culture obsession with thinness means that few overweight and obese people make it onto the TV or movie screens to serve as positive role models for overweight or obese children and teens.

Help your child to accept that weight has little to do with a person’s potential or worth by pointing out positive overweight and obese adult role models.

6. Be on the Lookout for Weight-Based Victimization

Overweight and obese children and teens are at increased risk for victimization and bullying.

Talk to your child about bullying and be on the lookout for signs of victimization.

Should you become aware of any harassment, be prepared to intervene if appropriate, or to offer coping support your child.

7. Become an Advocate against Weight-Based Stigma and Discrimination

Should you become aware of weight based victimization going on at your child’s school make an effort to educate teachers and administrators about the negative consequences of weight stigma and to encourage tolerance for people of all weights.2

References
  • 1.  Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D, & Story M. Associations of weight-based teasing and emotional well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. 2003; 157 733-738.
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Page last updated Apr 22, 2012

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