BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change. The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.
Dayle Hayes is an award-winning author and educator. Her creativity and common-sense have made her a sought-after speaker across the USA. As a parent and member of the School Nutrition Association, Dayle is dedicated to making school environments healthy for students and staff. She collected success stories for Making It Happen, a joint CDC-USDA project, wrote a chapter on communicating with students in Managing Child Nutrition Programs: Leadership for Excellence, and co-authored the August 2014 Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:Nutrition Guidance for Healthy Children Ages 2 to 11 Years.
In recognition of her professional and volunteer leadership, Dayle has received numerous honors, including Montana Dietitian of the Year and an... READ MORE…
Starting a Weight Stigma Conversation in Schools
Weight stigma and weight-based bullying are all too common from preschool through high school. For a thorough review of Weight Stigma Research in youth, read Dr. Rebecca Puhl’s 2013 WSAW blog. This post will explore three ways to begin an effective weight stigma conversation in local schools. Obviously, schools are just one place where weight stigma, bias and bullying in youth needs to be addressed.
1. Join your local school health council or wellness committee.
All schools that participate in the US Department of Agriculture school meals programs, like the National School Lunch Program, are required to have, update and implement a local wellness policy. In addition to specific requirements for content areas, schools are required by USDA to “Permit parents, students, representatives of the school food authority, teachers of physical education, school health professionals, the school board, school administrators, and the general public to participate in the development, implementation, and review and update of the local wellness policy.”
As part of their local wellness policy, schools must establish “goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness.” This makes wellness policies the perfect place to address weight stigma and issues like measuring weight and/or BMI at school. Research has shown that school BMI measurements and sending information to parents is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. A wellness committee can discuss the concerns about BMI reports and obesity prevention programs in schools, which may be linked to increased rates of dieting, body image disturbances and eating disorders among youth. These issues are discussed in more detail in my 2013 Huffington Post column, BMI Report Cards: More Harm Than Good?
2. Explore existing anti-bullying programs in your school.
Most districts have some type of bullying prevention programs, but they may not address weight bias. Counselors, teachers and other educators may need additional training on the extent and impact of weight-based bullying in school settings. Materials on weight bias from the Rudd Center can be helpful to ensure that weight stigma is included along with race, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities as a frequent reason for bullying.
3. Introduce Health at Every Size® (HAES) Principles into ongoing programs.
Many schools now provide nutrition and physical activity programs for students, often in conjunction with national organizations (e.g., Action for Healthy Kids and Alliance for a Healthier Generation) or with local agencies, hospitals or health centers. Sadly, some of these programs are focused on weight and body size, which can contribute to weight stigma and bullying, as well as inappropriate diet and exercise patterns.
During a recent Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) webinar, I discussed “How Can School Nutrition Embody Health At Every Size® Principles?”
The webinar recording and accompanying materials explore the many opportunities for introducing Health At Every Size® principles in school programs at federal, state and local levels. I also reviewed the state of nutrition programs in American schools and highlighted ways for parents, professionals and other community members to take positive action in their communities.
Schools are critical places to have conversations about weight stigma. While many programs may seem to be narrowly focused on “childhood obesity prevention,” many educators and school nutrition professionals ‘get’ concerns about stigmatizing children and bullying. Often a bit of education is enough to get the conversation started – and to reduce weight stigma in schools.