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).
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.
- Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Hannan PJ, Perry CL, Irving LM. Weight-related concerns and behaviors among overweight and non-overweight adolescents: Implications for preventing weight-related disorders. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2002;156:171-8.
- Latner JD, Stunkard AJ. Getting worse: the stigmatization of obese children. Obesity Research. 2003;11:452-6.
- Young-Hyman D, Tanofsky-Kraff M, Yanovski SZ, Keil M, Cohen ML, Peyrot M, Yanovski JA. Psychological status and weight-related distress in overweight or at-risk-for-overweight children. Obesity. 2006;14: 2249-58.
- 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.
- Puhl RM, Luedicke J., Heuer C. Weight-based victimization toward overweight adolescents: Observations and reactions of peers. Journal of School Health. In press.
- Bauer KW, Yang YW, Austin SB. "How can we stay healthy when you're throwing all of this in front of us?" Findings from focus groups and interviews in middle schools on environmental influences on nutrition and physical activity. Health Education and Behavior. 2004;31:34-46.
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- Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D, Haines J, Wall M. Weight-teasing and emotional well-being in adolescents: longitudinal findings from Project EAT. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006;38:675-83.
- Haines J, Neumark-Sztainer D, Eisenberg ME, Hannan PJ. Weight-teasing and disordered eating behaviors: Longitudinal findings from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Pediatrics 2006;117:e209-15.
- Stormer S, Thompson J. Explanation of body image disturbance: a test of maturational status, negative verbal commentary, social comparison, and sociocultural hypotheses. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1996;19:193-202.
- Storch EA, Milsom VA, Debragnza N, Lewin AB, Geffken GR, Silverstein JH. Peer
victimization, psychosocial adjustment, and physical activity in overweight and at-risk-for overweight youth. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2007; 32: 80-9.
- Krukowski RA, Smith West D, Philyaw Perez A, Bursac Z, Phillips MM, Raczynski JM. Overweight children, weight-based teasing and academic performance. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity. 2009;4(4):274-80.
- Nemark-Sztainer D, Harris T, Story M. Beliefs and attitudes about obesity among teachers and school health care providers working with adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education. 1999;31:3-9.
- O’Brien KS, Latner JD, Halberstadt J, Hunter JA, Anderson J, Caputi P. Do antifat attitudes predict antifat behaviors? Obesity. 2008;16(2):S87-92.
- Greenleaf C, Martin SB, Rhea D. Fighting fat: How do fat stereotypes influence beliefs about physical education? Obesity. 2008;16 (2):S53-9.
- McCormack LA, Laska MN, Gray C, Veblen-Mortenson S, Barr-Anderson D, Story M. Weight-related teasing among a racially diverse sample of sixth grade children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011;111(3):431-6.
- Haines J, Neumark-Sztainer D, Perry CL, Hannan PJ, Levine ML, Story M. V.I.K. (Very Important Kids): A school-based program to reduce teasing and risk for weight-related disorders. Health Education Research. 2006;21(6):884-95.
- McVey G, Tweed S, Blackmore E. Healthy Schools-Health Kids: a controlled evaluation of a comprehensive universal eating disorder prevention program. Body Image. 2007; 4: 115-36.