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Weight stigma and childhood obesity

Joint paper addresses weight stigma in childhood obesity

The Obesity Society Perspective paper encourages patient-centred approach to childhood obesity

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The Obesity Society (TOS) are seeking to raise awareness and provide recommendations regarding the prevalence and negative effects of weight stigma on paediatric patients and their families. In a joint policy statement, ‘Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents With Obesity,’ published in the journal Pediatrics, the recommendations include:

  • improving the clinical setting by modelling best practices for non-biased behaviours and language;
  • using empathetic and empowering counselling 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 programmes, and continuing medical education programs; and
  • empowering families to be advocates to address weight stigma in the home environment and school setting.

 “Youth face weight teasing and victimization at school from peers, but sometimes also at home from parents,” said co-author, Dr Rebecca Puhl, 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 paediatric health professionals, who may be among the few allies who can offer support and help prevent youth from further harm from these experiences.”

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.

“By examining their own weight biases, modelling sensitive communication and behaviour to children and families with obesity, and taking steps to address weight stigma with their staff, in their clinic environments, and in the broader communities, paediatric health care professionals can make important shifts in the culture of care for children with obesity,” the paper conclude. “With these concerted efforts to reduce weight stigma, interventions can more effectively help and empower patients to improve their weight-related health.”

“Treating obesity is complex and challenging,” said Dr Stephen J Pont, 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.”

In an accompanying Perspective paper published in Obesity, Drs Ted Kyle, Fatima Cody Stanford 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-centred approach to childhood obesity.”

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