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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Help obese kids avoid weight stigma, doctors advise

By Lisa Rapaport, Reuters | Nov 20, 2017

Shaming kids about their weight doesn’t encourage them to shed excess pounds, U.S. doctors warn.

In fact, it often has the opposite effect and contributes to behaviors like binge eating, inactivity, social isolation, and avoidance of routine medical checkups, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Obesity Society advise in a joint policy statement.

“Keep it positive. We know that making change is tough, and patients will likely have trouble initially meeting some of their goals, but we can learn from these challenges and go from there,” said Dr. Stephen Pont, lead author of the statement and founding chair of the AAP Section on Obesity Executive Committee.

“Also, we know that children with obesity are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety so we want to be extra mindful to focus on positive reinforcement and not negative reinforcement when encouraging behavior change,” Pont, of Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, said by email.

Obesity is the most common chronic health problem among U.S. children, doctors note in the policy statement. One in three kids between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese.

Stigma and discrimination can add to their health problems and harm their quality of life, making them feel isolated, embarrassed and sad. Excess weight alone can be a predictor for victimization and bullying.

Physicians must take a lead role in educating children and families about how to help children achieve a healthy weight without making kids feel stigmatized for their size, doctors argue.

“While there has been substantial attention to medical treatment and intervention for obesity in youth, the social and emotional impact of body weight – like stigma and bullying – often get neglected,” said Rebecca Puhl, a fellow at the Obesity Society and deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

There are ways pediatricians can speak to parents and children about weight that are supportive and encouraging instead of sounding unintentionally judgmental, Puhl said by email.

For starters, they can talk about “children with obesity” instead of “obese children” to emphasize that this is a medical condition. Using neutral terms like “weight” instead of negative terms like “fat” or “obese” can also help.

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