Using fat shaming remarks to measure a person sends the absolute wrong messages to our young girls and boys. Words matter. They can scar you if not used carefully.
As the founder of a weight loss company for children and teenagers, Kurbo Health, I am afraid that these types of demeaning comments are not limited to Presidential candidates. Overweight children get these comments every day — from their peers, teachers and even their doctors.
Yesterday we received this email from the mother of a 16 year old boy: “My son has struggled with his weight for years. He’s had medical professionals jiggle his oversized breast tissue and make snide comments. I want my son to feel better but I don’t approach it anymore as he’s had too many disappointments”.
Another email: “My son cries each time we go to the doctor. She tells him that he is obese, and that he will lose his fingers and toes to diabetes if he does not do anything. But these comments just stress him out and make him eat more.”
Last week we met with a pediatrician who said that he has so many overweight kids in his office that he has taken to having them lie on the table and grabbing a handful of their fat to show them and their parents that they need to lose weight. Somehow he believes this is motivating.
The American Pediatric Association itself has taken a hands-off stance, warning that any talk of dieting or weight issues will lead to food disorders. This has only reinforced parental denial, leading many parents to believe that their children will just outgrow their weight issues, which has proven untrue. Overweight five-year-olds have a tenfold increased risk of becoming obese adults compared to relatively thin five-year-olds. And 80% of overweight adolescents grow up to be obese adults.
As a society we have a strange relationship with overweight children. We want them to lose weight. We know that being overweight as a child leads to health issues and discrimination. And yet because we don’t have an agreed upon language or a helpful approach to talk about weight, we constantly fail in communicating this effectively to our children, potentially damaging both their self esteem and their future.
There is a healthy way to approach this issue. Discuss health. Don’t judge or criticize children for their weight. Instead, get to the root of the problem with a personalized approach – what foods is the child eating that makes them overweight? Are their parents talking to them in a way that makes them hoard food and overeat outside the house, or are they empowering their children to make their own food choices? Are there unhealthy foods in the house that can be removed because willpower is highly over-rated? Is the child stressed or depressed and is this leading to poor eating patterns? If so, come up with better coping mechanisms. If the family cannot afford healthier foods, work with them to find foods they can afford that contain more nutrients and don’t cause weight gain.
Fat shaming doesn’t work from parents or pediatricians. We (adults) have to play a huge role in making sure that our children are learning the tools they need to make healthy choices. When people of authority, presidential candidates, parents, doctors, contribute to these harmful practices around weight, it is that much more horrible for the child. It is not okay.