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Weight Bias Threatens Obese Children’s Health and Quality of Life


New Haven, Conn. — Overweight children who are stigmatized by peers and their parents and teachers sustain profound and potentially lasting harm, according to a paper by scientists from Yale and the University of Hawaii at Manatoa.

“Weight-based discrimination is as important a problem as racial discrimination or discrimination against children with physical disabilities,” the authors write in the July issue of Psychological Bulletin. “Remedying it needs to be taken equally seriously if we are to protect the emotional and physical well-being of our nation’s children.”

The study analyzes published research gathered from psychological, medical, social science, and educational databases. Over 100 studies were included that offered evidence on the associations between obesity, stigma (e.g., teasing, victimization, and prejudice of obese youth) and a variety of negative consequences that included social exclusion, low self esteem, reduced academic and earning potential, avoidance of physical activity, eating disorders, and even suicide.

Among some of the more striking findings highlighted were:

Adolescents teased about their weight are two-to-three times more likely to report suicidal ideation than their peers.

Children as young as preschool age ascribe negative characteristics to overweight peers and reject them as potential playmates.

Overweight adolescents report that parents are a frequent source of weight-based teasing.

Youth who reported weight-based victimization are at risk for unhealthy weight control, binge eating behaviors, and avoidance of physical activity.

Adolescents who reported being treated unfairly because of their weight had higher blood pressure than their peers – even after controlling for weight, activity level and other factors.

While science provides extensive documentation of the extent of stigmatization, long-term health consequences of weight bias require further study, as does identifying methods to effectively reduce stigma toward youth, the authors said.

“The childhood obesity epidemic is rapidly accelerating,” said lead author Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale. “That means thousands of children in North America are at risk for serious emotional and physical health consequences that science shows are connected to weight stigma. We cannot overestimate the urgency of combating stigma.”


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