Let’s make school free of weight bias

This is a guest post written by Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS about how we can make every school free of weight bias

Diet talk is so engrained into our culture, which makes sense as to why it is a part of our schools and the school activities. Weight bias at school jeopardizes kids’ emotional and physical health.

To help create a safe, weight-neutral environment for our kids, administrators and teachers can change this culture and protect our kids by focusing on making school activities free of diet talk free and body-positive. 

Where do we start?

  • Be alert to incidences of weight bias, understand your own attitudes, and those of your students.
  • Be aware of the language that you use about weight, and avoid labeling people as “fat” or food as “bad.”
  • Don’t make negative assumptions about people who are at higher weights.
  • Avoid “Fat-Talk.” Be careful of how you discuss weight in the presence of children. Use sensitive and appropriate language.
  • Avoid “should” statements related to weight and food with your students. For example, avoid making comments like “You shouldn’t be eating that” or “You should eat something healthier.” 
  • Talk positively about your own body in front of the students – or at least don’t make negative comments about your body. 
  • Refrain from labeling foods as “junk, bad or unhealthy” on the school campus. 
  • Allow kids to regulate their eating by allowing them to decide how they eat and how much they eat. 
  • Encourage self-esteem in your students. It is important for kids to recognize that self-esteem comes from many sources, not appearance. Celebrate their successes and behaviors that have nothing to do with their body and be sure to compliment them on these qualities. (e.g., qualities like kindness, being a good friend, doing well on a school assignment, working hard to achieve a goal, taking good care of a pet, etc).

Weight bias at school

Teachers, remind kids and adolescents that they are still growing and that they need to eat enough to support their activity and growth. Talk about what bodies do, rather than what they look like.

Talk about foods in a neutral way, rather than talking about foods being “good” or “bad.” Focus on where food comes from and offer fun food exposure experiences in the classroom. Remember it is the job of the parents to decide what the kids bring to school, and it is the job of the kids to determine how much they eat and what they are going to eat. 

body image for girls ebook

Weight bias examples

When kids are teasing or bullying others because of their weight, they may not realize how harmful their behavior is. Weight bias has become so ingrained in our society that kids sometimes reflect what they have witnessed elsewhere.

Let students know that weight-shaming behavior is inappropriate without making them feel embarrassed. Weight bias can be expressed in both direct and indirect ways. Be aware of these behaviors among your students:

  • Verbal comments such as name-calling, derogatory remarks, teasing, or joking directed at higher-weight students 
  • Social exclusion such as ignoring or not including higher-weight students in activities 
  • Physical aggression such as shoving or physically intimidating a higher-weight student 
  • Humiliation of a higher-weight student through spreading rumors or cyber-bullying

Tips for reducing weight bias at school

  • Celebrate all bodies! No matter what size they are. 
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for weight-based bullying.
  • Educate Yourself. Understand the multiple complex causes of weight so you don’t make false assumptions about people who are in a larger body. Remember that genetic, biological, environmental & social factors all contribute to body size.
  • Treat the importance of weight tolerance as you would racial or religious tolerance.
  • Health-improving behaviors such as exercise, nutrition, sleep hygiene, etc. should be equally applied regardless of weight status.
  • Encourage students of all weights to participate in sports teams, student council, talent shows and all extracurricular activities.
  • Challenge negative stereotypes that place blame and stigma on larger-bodied individuals.
  • Increase awareness of how the media perpetuates weight bias. The media stereotypes higher weight individuals and sets unrealistic ideals of thinness.
  • Discuss examples of weight bias among youth and encourage students to intervene and stand up for their peers.
  • Are the desks or chairs in your classroom large enough to accommodate your larger-bodied students?
  • Challenge your own assumptions about body weight.
parent coach

Weight bias research facts:

Sadly, we forget that kids are supposed to gain weight during their elementary and adolescent years. Kids can’t change the genes that will determine how tall they will be or when puberty starts. They are born with the ability to intuitively regulate their intake by determining when they are feeling hungry and full. 

  • Kids, on average, gain 40 pounds in the 4 years around puberty.
  • Girls’ body fat percentage increases by 120% during puberty.
  • 2 out of 3 13-year-old girls are fearful of gaining weight.
  • Kids are fearful of gaining weight when they need to be gaining weight and become aware of their bodies/weight as young as 5 years old. 

About Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS

Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS

Julia Cassidy is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist Supervisor, a Licensed Body Positive Facilitator, and a Certified Intuitive Eating Coach. She is passionate about helping individuals heal their relationship with food and their bodies. Julia is is the Director of Dietary for Center for Discovery where she has worked for over 15 years. Julia oversees 20 Dietitians nationwide and has developed and updated the nutrition program used with all clients in the adolescent residential programs at Center for Discovery.


References/Resources:

  1. Hunger JM, Tomiyama AJ. Weight labeling and disordered eating among adolescent females: Longitudinal evidence from the NHLBI Growth and Health Study. J Adolesc Health 2018;63:360–2
  2. Adapted from: Sunny Side Up Nutrition
  3. Sobczak, Connie. Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and Quiet That Critical Voice!). Gürze Books, 2014.
  4. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. http://www.UConnRuddCenter.org
  5. Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Eisenberg ME, Story M, Hannan PJ. Overweight status and weight control behaviors in adolescents: longitudinal and secular trends from 1999 to 2004. Prev Med. 2006 Jul;43(1):52-9. Epub 2006 May 112
  6. KK, Birch LL. Weight status, parent reaction, and self-concept in five-year-old girls. Pediatrics. 2001;107:46–53.
  7. Nadia Micali, George Ploubidis, Bianca De Stavola, Emily Simonoff, Janet Treasure. Frequency and Patterns of Eating Disorder Symptoms in Early Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013

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