For youth with obesity and their families, weight stigma causes as much harm as obesity itself. It leads to bullying and raises the risk that a child with obesity will become an adult with obesity, along with a host of other chronic diseases. It makes the problem worse, not better.
In a new joint policy statement, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The Obesity Society (TOS) seek to raise awareness and provide recommendations regarding the prevalence and negative effects of weight stigma on pediatric patients and their families. These recommendations include improving the clinical setting by modeling best practices for nonbiased behaviors and language; using empathetic and empowering counseling techniques and addressing weight stigma and bullying in the clinic visit; advocating for inclusion of training and education about weight stigma in medical schools, residency programs, and continuing medical education programs; and empowering families to be advocates to address weight stigma in the home environment and school setting.
“Treating obesity is complex and challenging,” said Stephen J. Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP, a lead author of the policy and founding chair of the AAP Section on Obesity Executive Committee. “Sometimes we can forget the burden that weight stigma places on children and families struggling with obesity.”
Weight stigma among youth is most often experienced as victimization, teasing, and bullying. In the school setting, weight-based bullying is among the most frequent forms of peer harassment reported by students. In fact, 71 percent of those seeking weight loss treatment said they have been bullied about their weight in the past year, and more than one third indicated that the bullying has gone on for more than five years.
“Youth face weight teasing and victimization at school from peers, but sometimes also at home from parents,” said co-author Rebecca Puhl, PhD, deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and fellow with The Obesity Society. “This issue needs to be on the radar for pediatric health professionals, who may be among the few allies who can offer support and help prevent youth from further harm from these experiences.”
In an accompanying Perspective paper published in Obesity, Ted Kyle, RpH, MBA, Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, and Joseph F. Nadglowski agree with the new AAP and TOS joint statement. “This is important because efforts to address childhood obesity will only succeed if they consider the impact on children with obesity and their families. Perhaps the most important impact comes from stigma and bullying. So finally, we have a strong position statement on the problem of stigma and the fat shaming that results. That opens the door to a more patient-centered approach to childhood obesity,” said Ted Kyle.