What does a “bad body” look like? Children certainly have some interesting opinions.
As early as age 6, girls may look in the mirror and begin to worry about their shape. Kids may jeer at different bodies on playgrounds, as adults cast blame on “irresponsible” parents.
Young people are an especially vulnerable population when it comes to ideas about body image. As National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month kicks off, it’s important to avoid fat-shaming kids. After all, the impacts have lifelong negative effects — from eating disorders to low self-worth.
Here’s how to make sure children stay healthy, without the shame often inherent in discussing obesity.
1. PROTECT PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Across the country, school districts are slashing physical education to save money. But we need to push schools to promote physical activity, from sports and recess to P.E.
That means we must adequately fund public schools, so they don’t have to cut these essential programs in the first place.
- STOP BULLYING
Other kids are more likely to dislike and bully children if they are fat. And who can blame them, when adults do it too?
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we tackle bullying for the sake of children’s health.
Schools, parents, faculty and other students need to step up. Stomp Out Bullying offers some useful resources for bullying intervention.
- SUPPORT HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCHES
Obesity in the U.S. disproportionately affects the poor. A lack of access to fresh produce and the comparatively high cost of healthy foods plays a role.
One solution is to improve school lunches, helping low-income students on free and reduced-priced programs. But existing laws don’t even guarantee that children have a vegetarian meal option.
Supporting programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program can also help. These efforts allow kids to eat healthy meals at home too.
- FOCUS ON HEALTH, NOT LOOKS
“The Student Body” follows student filmmaker Bailey Webber as she investigates why some public schools test students for their body mass index, or BMI.
Webber notes that most scientists consider BMI to be an inaccurate measure of health. She also ends every interview with a request to measure the adult interviewee’s BMI — and almost everyone refused, suggesting that the test was too invasive.
Demand that politicians support children’s health care programs instead of arbitrary measurements.
- TEACH BODY POSITIVITY
Every body is a good body, but not enough kids hear this.
As Portland Pediatric Nutrition notes, a 2016 study shows that children whose parents criticize their weight grow up with negative body image. Plus, when peers and adults label teen and preteen girls “too fat,” they’re more likely to become obese later on.
Demand that other children, schools, health care professionals and politicians stop shaming kids for their looks. It’s mean, counterproductive and absolutely unhealthy.