School weigh-ins to combat the obesity crisis have been reported in the media as a possible addition to current health policy in my state of NSW
I think it is a terrible idea- here are my thoughts.
Lets hope, and fight if necessary, that any new policy does not include weight-ins at school. It is just not the right environment to be discussing these types of health concerns; how did the policy makers not notice that bullying is much too prevalent already, and teen suicide rates are increasing, kids have too much pressure on them already to be ‘perfect’…and yet they think it would be a good idea to weigh kids at school????
Body image concerns and weight are risk factors for eating disorders. In my work with teens suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, I can tell you it is not unusual to hear stories of severe weight related bullying and also reasonably frequently stories about feeling shamed during physical education school weigh ins. We are also seeing more teens who who previously overweight, then develop this debilitating illness.
Binge Eating Disorder is even more common, in this illness, people (including teens) often know they have a problem with their weight, have terrible body image and self worth, and yet turn to eating- because they are hungry from trying to diet to hard, or psychologically feeling deprived, or to soothe difficult emotions related to very difficult events. Telling them they are overweight in the school environment, is not going to help them, and is likely to make their binge eating worse. They need a multidisciplinary treatment to address the underlying issues and theor relationship with food.
I don’t know if school has changed, but we have a great sporting culture in Australia. That is to say it’s great… if you are good (lets say top 10% of the class) at sport. So activity was encouraged in the select few. But of course activity needs to be fun and encouraged in everyone, not just in those good at it! Schools can do that, and do it well. They can change their canteens and offer healthy breakfast for kids coming to school with empty tummy’s.
But nutrition education, especially in young kids up to about 14 years, is often done very badly, and its too easy to make kids feel shamed about something beyond their control. After all who does the shopping in your house?….Its not usually the kids. Sadly the lunch boxes of kids from disadvantaged homes are more likely to be made examples of; because good quality healthy eating doesn’t come cheap. Plus parents under stress, may not have the education, skills, or the room for this food worry, when they are likely to have more pressing matters to survive through.
I know kids are a captive audience at school, but this is a complex problem. Parents need the education and skills training not the kids, they also need support in other areas, think budgeting and even sadly crisis management. With a bit of imagination and a few more dollars, we can make a real difference. Making this solely the teachers problem is not going solve anything, and potentially, if done poorly, it is just make a whole lot of kids health (physical and emotional) worse off.
Please share to raise awareness of these issues, I am pretty sure parents do not want this type of pressure been placed on our kids either.