Youth Weight Bias and Bullying in Schools, April 2011

Youth Weight Bias and Bullying in Schools, April 2011

ABSTRACT

Weight-based bias and victimization of youth in the school setting is highly prevalent. The Obesity Society (TOS) strongly opposes any form of weight bias or discrimination, and is committed to increasing public awareness of weight bias and promoting efforts to reduce this form of bias among youth.

BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Weight stigma, including weight-based teasing, bullying, and social isolation, is a common occurrence among the lives of children and adolescents (1-4). Although overweight and obese youth experience higher levels of stigma, underweight youth also experience weight stigma (1).

Recent research shows that weight-based victimization in the school setting is highly prevalent, occurs across all grade levels, and is more common than other forms of teasing and bullying (5). Despite its prevalence, some overweight and obese students report that school-based policies to prohibit victimization are not being enforced (6).

Numerous studies have documented the adverse consequences weight stigma has on the psychological and physical health of youth (7-11). Children and adolescents who experience weight stigma are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, poor body image, suicidal ideation, as well as disordered eating behaviors, binge eating behaviors and avoidance of physical activity. Weight stigma has also been found to be associated with poorer educational outcomes and increased school absences (12).

Research has shown that peers (1-4) and teachers (6, 13-15), along with parents (16), are the primary sources of weight stigma experienced by youth. Thus, schools are an appropriate and important venue for environmental level policies and interventions to reduce weight stigma and victimization. School-based interventions aimed at changing the social environment of the school (i.e., norms regarding weight-related harassment), have been shown to reduce the amount of stigma experienced by youth (17,18).

RECOMMENDATIONS

To help reduce the amount of weight bias experienced by children and adolescents within the school setting, The Obesity Society recommends the following: Encourage school administrators at all school levels (primary, middle, and secondary) to implement and enforce a zero-tolerance bullying policy that includes bullying aimed at weight and body shape.

Increase education and awareness among teachers and school administrators of the serious adverse consequences of weight stigma on youth’s health, wellbeing, and academic success. Provide resources to teachers and school administrators to support the creation of a school environment that supports the health, well-being and academic success of students of all body weights and shapes.

Increase research funding to test school-based interventions aimed at reducing weight stigma among youth, teachers, and school administrators.

The Obesity Society is the leading scientific society dedicated to the study of obesity. The Obesity Society is committed to encouraging research on the causes, treatment, and prevention of obesity as well as keeping the scientific community and public informed of new advances for the field. For more information, please visit www.obesity .org.

References

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  2. Latner JD, Stunkard AJ. Getting worse: the stigmatization of obese children. Obesity Research. 2003;11:452-6.
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  4. Hayden-Wade, HA, Stein RI, Ghaderi A, Saelens BE, Zabinski MF, Wilfley DE. Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates of Teasing Experiences among Overweight Children vs. Non Overweight Peers. Obesity Research. 2005;13:1381-1392.
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