Parental Support for Policy Actions to Reduce Weight Stigma toward Youth in Schools and Children's Television Programs: Trends from 2011 to 2013

By Suh, Young; Puhl, Rebecca et al. | Childhood Obesity, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Parental Support for Policy Actions to Reduce Weight Stigma toward Youth in Schools and Children's Television Programs: Trends from 2011 to 2013


Suh, Young, Puhl, Rebecca, Liu, Sai, Fleming Milici, Frances, Childhood Obesity


[Author Affiliation]

Young Suh. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Rebecca Puhl. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Sai Liu. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Frances Fleming Milici. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Address correspondence to: Young Suh, MS, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards Street, New Haven, CT 06511, E-mail: Young.suh@yale.edu

Introduction

With 1 in 3 US children overweight or obese,1 efforts to prevent and treat childhood obesity must consider, alongside physical health outcomes, the psychological and social consequences resulting from weight stigma and discrimination. Weight discrimination refers to unfair treatment of individuals because of their higher weight status. Among youth, stigma most often manifests as weight-based victimization (WBV), which includes bullying (i.e., repeated aggression in a relationship generally involving power imbalance)2 and teasing (such as derogatory or hurtful comments, or name-calling). Weight-related bullying in school is among the most frequent forms of harassment reported by youth3,4 and educators.5 Parents view "being overweight" as the most common reason for bullying of youth of any weight status.6

WBV is associated with numerous negative outcomes, including depression, social isolation, low self-esteem, poor body image, suicide ideation, and poorer school performance.7-11 Additionally, children stigmatized because of their weight are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and avoid physical activities,11-14 both of which may contribute to future weight gain.15 As WBV becomes more severe, frequent, and upsetting for older youth,16 combined with its prevalence among adolescents with excess weight,17-23 there is a need to minimize societal factors reinforcing weight bias. Implementing strategies to reduce WBV in schools is one approach that could help protect vulnerable youth from the negative consequences of teasing and bullying. Very few school-based or state-wide antibullying policies address body weight as a characteristic that places students at risk for victimization24 ; thus, efforts to strengthen existing school-based antibullying policies to better protect students who are teased or bullied about their weight may be a useful stigma reduction approach to implement in schools.

Outside of the school setting, youth remain highly vulnerable and exposed to weight stigma by the mass media. Today's youth, on average, spend 6 hours each day watching television,25 and the media has been documented as a powerful influence of weight-related sociocultural standards in the United States.26 Popular children's media cultivates an idealization of a thin body shape27 and perpetuates weight bias by negatively stereotyping overweight and obese characters. In contrast to thin characters typically depicted as popular, kind, and attractive, overweight characters are negatively portrayed as aggressive, less popular, the target of humor, and engaging in unhealthy habits.27-30 A recent content analysis of children's movies released in 2006-2010 indicated that 70% included weight-related stigmatizing content, of which 90% was directed toward overweight characters.31 This is particularly concerning in light of findings from another recent content analysis of popular adolescent television shows indicating a significantly higher proportion of weight-stigmatizing incidents in youth-targeted shows (50%), compared to general audience shows (38.3%).32 With the pervasiveness of stigmatizing content in youth media, it is perhaps not surprising that research links greater media exposure with increased expressions of weight stigma among children. …

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