Pediatricians: The New Anti-bullies in the War On Weight

by Cindy Cole, LMFT, LPC, Director of Primary and Family Therapy

rsz_photo-1460788150444-d9dc07fa9dbaIt’s not uncommon for teasing to be an aspect of a young person’s life, whether within the confines of the family, or on the playground of the schoolyard. Teasing can be connected to minor things such as possessing a multitude of freckles, or being the shortest kid in the family.

But sometimes, making fun of another goes from benign joking to cruel and relentless bullying. Although the “whys” behind the bullying of children is still wide open, by and large, it focuses on weight. And, there are many young people in America today who are obese.

The truth is, steps do need to be taken to curb this growing problem. Whereas bullying is profoundly painful in the present, the long-term medical and social consequences of obesity, including eating disorders, low self-esteem and negative body image, are even more worrisome.

The key players in the effort to improve this issue are parents and the family doctor, with the medical provider possibly being of greater import. After all, the pediatrician is the professional who usually first diagnoses the problem.

To their collective credit, doctors are expanding their own awareness and sensitivity as to the emotionally charged nature of a child’s weight.

Recently, a new policy statement issued jointly by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Obesity Society spoke to this issue. Titled “Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents with Obesity,” the statement advises doctors to use neutral words like weight and Body Mass Index when talking to young patients instead of more hurtful words such as obese and fat. It also suggests that doctors not label patients with descriptions such as “the overweight child,” but rely on terms such as “the child with weight issues.” Any doctor/patient discussions should focus on topics such as eating well and healthy exercise, instead of weight loss.

For change to occur, parents should also be involved in a positive way by modeling healthy behaviors and never shaming a child for weight. Shame never leads to positive change. If anything, it only exacerbates the problem.

Parents can encourage more activity, less screen time and better nutrition for the entire family.

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