Stigma Experienced By Children With Obesity
It is often seen that weight stigma is propagated in the society as a thought, that it would motivate people to lose weight. But the unknown fact is that this propagation causes harm, and leads to binge eating, isolation from the society, reduced physical activity, and isolation from the healthcare services which in turn worsens obesity and also the behaviour. All this leads to impairment of the quality of life, especially in the youth.
There are many media campaigns targeting obesity, depicting obese people in a dehumanizing way or images. Fat people eating high in fats diet, not being able to get into their clothes, or just lazing around are a few of, amongst many endless examples. They are portrayed as lazy, self-indulgent and weak-willed individuals.
Weight stigma is suffered mostly by the children and leads to a great impact in their adolescents. Various studies depict that the children with excess weight, who are stigmatized for their weight, are more at a risk, to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor body image.
Source of Weight Bias Towards Youth
Kids suffer from weight stigma by being called fun names from the peers. This leads to psychological distress, disruptive eating behaviours, decreased physical activity and weight gain. The effects of weight stigma experienced in adolescence may be long-lasting.
The peers are seen to be the frequent critics of the obese child and school is the most common place where this bias occurs. The bias starts as early as the preschool age. The children with obesity face ignorance among the peers, as they believe that the obese child is lazy, ugly and less-desirable.
An adolescent obese child bears the teasing and bullying from the peers and is rejected for not being clever, healthy, happy, and attractive when compared with the non-overweight child.
The teachers are also the culprit, as they share a role in this stigma. They have low expectation from an overweight child as compared to the normal weight individual. For any kind of physical activity, they are the last ones to be thought of, as it is pre-assumed that an overweight child might not perform well. They perceive that an overweight child has worse social, physical, reasoning and cooperation abilities. The youth with obesity is more vulnerable to negative attitude from their teachers.
A much-unexpected source of weight stigma are the parents. Parents unknowingly stigmatize their overweight child on various family occasions. Parents frequently make the child realize that they are overweight and compare them with the normal weight siblings. This leads to low self-esteem and the individual starts to avoid the social gathering and meeting, as they fear being bullied, by the cousin and the relatives.
Ways To Help Children Overcome The Consequence Of Weight Stigma
Obesity is a most common problem amongst children nowadays. The physicians should take a lead role in educating families and children on how to achieve a healthy weight and keep away their kids from stigmatization. The doctor should always talk to parents and kids in a supporting and encouraging way instead of sounding judgemental.
Parents should also talk carefully with the kids about their weight. Using words ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ can be avoided and instead neutral term like ‘weight’ can be used. Parents should focus their comments on health and healthy behaviours so that their children can practice healthy behaviour along with them. They should avoid making comments about their own or other people’s weight in front of their child.
Mental health resilience and body positivity must be promoted amongst the children and young adults with obesity. The weight-based bullying should be monitored and responded by promoting anti-bullying programs and educating and training professionals. The children should be made aware that the cause of body weight is complex and beyond an individual’s control. The weight biased bullying should be addressed seriously as the other bullying at school.
The educators should keep a check, on their assumptions and language about weight. They should not make any disparaging comment about the body weight.
The friends, parents, and teachers are the foundation to be the best supporters if the child is bullied. Social support such as listening to them, including them in the physical activities and spending time with them, provides a lot of support.
A failure to address childhood obesity and stigmatization can affect the social and health capital of future generation and increase inequity, therefore should be taken care of by the parents, health professionals in charge and the society.
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