Addressing Weight Bias in the Classroom

Posted in: Blogs, Healthy Eating

Today, 30% of Canadian children, aged 5-17, have overweight or obesity and one in 10 children has experienced or is experiencing some forms of weight bias at school and their own home. In our recent community Nutrition Report Card, the school environment received a grade of F on how schools addressed weight bias. Many schools assessed stated they either did address weight bias or were not sure if they addressed it.

How does weight bias show up in schools?

Weight bias is referred to as negative attitudes and views about obesity and people with obesity. Weight bias in schools can take various forms of discrimination such as teasing, bullying, and social exclusion. It is more prevalent than we may think as elementary school kids with obesity face a 63% higher chance of being bullied.

What are the consequences?

  • Weight bias can negatively affect students’ academic performance.
  • Elementary school students with obesity miss more days of school than their peers.
  • To cope with discrimination, some students display binge eating or unhealthy weight control practices.
  • Weight bias can have a significant impact on psychological consequences including loneliness, depression, low self- esteem, poor body image, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

What can teachers do to help?

Be aware of it

  • Watch for any students with obesity who may be a target of bullying and discrimination because of their weight.
  • Build trust with students who have larger body sizes to pave the way of discussing bullying issues.
  • Be mindful of your language about bodyweight. For example, kids “with” or “have” overweight, as opposed to, “are” overweight. Or rather, overweight is a condition which someone has; not something they are.

Spread the awareness

  • Educate students to understand that obesity is not a personal choice. The cause of obesity is complex and affected by many factors such as genetics, sleep and metabolism. Obesity is often beyond individual control and factors such as willpower and discipline,
  • Teach students to recognize the influence of media about weight and body image,
  • Encourage students of all body sizes to participate in student councils, school activities, and sports.

What can schools do to help?

  • Treat weight bias as any other forms of bias such as race, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • Include weight bias into anti-bullying policies to ensure the protection for students of a variety of body sizes.
  • Integrate weight bias reduction strategies into existing programs.

Parents, educators, and school staff all play important roles in building a healthy school community which provides a safe and healthy environment where all children can learn and grow.

Resources and lesson plans for teaching weight bias and body images

  • Being Me-Promoting Positive Body Image and Self-esteem (Grade K-7): This resource contains lessons and activities designed to support the development of positive body image and self-esteem, along with messaging to help prevent disordered eating.
  • Media Smart-Body image and Media Literacy (Grade 3-12): This resource provides parents and teachers with information and tools so they can help children and teens develop the critical thinking skills they need for interacting with the media they love. This resource is also available in French.
  • The Student Body: Promoting Health at Any Size (Grade 4-6): An online teacher training module designed to help teachers (and parents) recognize the factors that can trigger unhealthy dieting among children, and ways to prevent it. This is a 6-module course complete with background information for teachers and excellent classroom-based activities that also utilize technology.
  • Junior High Mental Health Kit by Alberta Health Services: This is a curriculum-based teaching resource for students in Grades 7-9 to teach students about mental wellness including the topic of Body Image.
  • A Tool for Every Teacher: This resource developed by the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit includes topics of media literacy and healthy body image. It includes frequently asked question for educators about role modeling and teaching to positively impact students.

Submitted by Trudy Tran, Dietetic Intern, Nutrition Services, Alberta Health Services