Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the Middle East, yet awareness and understanding surrounding the issue of weight stigma are far from adequate. This issue, also known as weight bias or weight-based discrimination, is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight. It may be a new phrase to many, but it’s a problematic issue that continues to affect many children.
Cases of weight stigma have become very common in schools around the region, with bullying, body comparison, and even depression affecting children.
According to Bahee Van De Bor, Children’s Dietitian at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, there are certain key characteristics that may be prevalent among children experiencing weight stigma. “Mood and behavioral changes are the biggest tell-tale signs, including decreased socializing with friends, lack of motivation and will to participate in group sports and activities, and requesting to wear looser, baggier clothing,” she adds.
With the sheer number of fast-food eateries that we are surrounded by, combined with the fact that children spend less time outdoors and more time watching movies and playing on tablets, it comes as little surprise that at least one in three boys and one in two girls are overweight in the Middle East. As a result of that, cases of weight stigma have become very common in schools around the region, with bullying, body comparison, and even depression affecting children.
“When working with overweight children, my biggest focus is to support and not highlight the obvious, aiming to create an environment and atmosphere where they feel comfortable and not embarrassed or ashamed of their weight. A step-by-step approach of education and encouragement from both myself and parents is pivotal to working towards a happier and healthier child,” Van De Bor explains.
If you fear that your child may be facing weight-based discrimination at school, there are a few things you could do. First of all, it is important to move away from measuring a child’s weight, instead supporting them in making nutritious choices. One proven way to do this is by incorporating not only children but the entire family into meal times. Eating together with adults allows children to understand and learn more about the nutrients that are present or lacking in specific foods, resulting in more educated and better food choices. Have open and positive conversations with your children around nutrition. Educate them about the food they eat, how to read food labels, sensible portion sizes, and why we eat certain foods.
Second, creating meal plans together as a family also allows everyone to be aware of what they are all going to be eating during the week. It is important not to single the child out but to make an effort to be healthier as a family, thereby taking the attention away from your child’s weight.
In addition to that, talk to your child about why he or she eats. Is it when they’re sad? Do they eat when they’re happy? Get them thinking about why they eat and the psychology around eating. Adjust their mindset so that they realize that weight is just a number and that children come in all shapes and sizes. The most important thing is to make nutritious choices, as a family.
Finally, schedule weekly activities as a family. These can include swimming, walking, playing football, or cycling. Just remember not to single out one child or to force weight-loss exercise onto them.
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London is recognized as one of the few truly world-class hospitals for children. As a global leader, GOSH has top clinical and research experts working every day to find new and better ways to treat children. While breakthroughs and medical expertise are essential to the treatment of patients, GOSH also places great emphasis on the support and care provided for children by nurturing an open and supportive atmosphere, ensuring that parents and patients are well informed and closely involved in the treatment process. Children receive the highest standards of care and attention from the expert team of medical and support staff during their stay at GOSH, and are always treated with respect, trust, concern and openness.
The International and Private Patients Service at GOSH treats over 5,000 children from over 90 different countries each year. The service is tailored to the referral and treatment of international patients and our dedicated, multi-lingual team ensure a smooth and efficient patient experience.