How to Talk to Kids About Weight and Health

For many children, heading back to school elicits a variety of feelings—both good and bad. Although hitting the books and performing well in class, on the ball field, or while engaging in other pursuits are often top of mind for most kids, those who are overweight or obese may have other concerns. According to a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, weight-based bullying accounts for 40% of reported teasing in adolescence. In a 2013 review on weight discrimination and bullying, researchers suggest that overweight and obese youth are often victimized, teased, and bullied; that in turn can contribute to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, poor academic and other adverse outcomes. Between that and the fact that many schools across the country now disseminate report cards that include information about Body Mass Index (BMI), both parents and their kids are likely to have questions and concerns—many that they cannot intuitively answer.

To help parents feel more comfortable with their children when answering questions or addressing concerns about body weight and health, a research-based guide called “Weigh In: Talking to Your Children About Weight and Health” was created. This free, online tool created by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance—a collaboration of consumer, provider, government, labor, business, health insurers and quality-of-care organizations that combats obesity—and experts provides parents with the language with which to answer some of the weight and health-related questions their kids aged 7 to 11 may ask. Whether they’re confused about what a BMI is, don’t know how to handle weight-related bullying, or don’t understand why people in the same family can have such different bodies, the resource provides an empowering tool for parents to use.

For those who want to bring the conversation into the classroom or group setting, there’s an accompanying Weigh In Discussion Toolkit.

No child should have to endure being bullied for any reason—let alone his or her weight, body shape or size. Even I felt bullied as a teenage girl when a nasty boy said I had thunder thighs. It still stings when I think about it. But while parents, educators, and healthcare providers cannot prevent children from being bullied about their bodies or their weight, they can help them develop the tools and confidence to better handle such situations and still feel good about themselves whatever their shape, size, or weight.

Modeling healthy food and fitness habits, taking about appearance in a positive rather than judgmental way, focusing on aspects other than appearance, and showing kids what’s in it for them to eat well and be active—better performance at school or when playing sports or pursuing other activities that interest them—can help kids nourish and feel good about their bodies. Of course it’s more challenging to teach kids to dismiss or ignore hurtful things others may say or do to them. But if parents and those who work with children band together to support—and at the same time, enlighten—children about how to care for, think about, and advocate for themselves and others, and how to treat others, this will hopefully help us create a kinder, more accepting generation that comes in all shapes and sizes.

Image of two young girls bullying other young girl outside via Shutterstock.

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  1. [...] calculate his BMI yourself. Parents’ advisor Elisa Zied, RDN, has helpful advice in her blog, The Scoop on Food, about how to talk to your child about weight and health. As she told me, “Not every child will [...]