An Ottawa doctor is calling on teachers to stop weighing their students in classrooms.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix and creator of the blog Weighty Matters, published a blog post on Monday that argues that announcing children's weight in classrooms can lead to bullying.
The family doctor writes he was inspired to publish the blog post after his 11-year-old daughter's teacher weighed all the students in her Grade 5 class in front of each other to teach them about volume.
"For some of [the teacher's] students, I'd venture it was their worst day of the school year," Freedhoff wrote, adding, "It should have been predictable that there'd be snickers when the heaviest kids in the class were weighed. The lightest kids' weights elicited snickers too."
He continued: "11-year-olds' teachers ought not to be contributing to their students being self-conscious, embarrassed, or ashamed of their bodies," adding that he believed the teacher had "good intentions." But he didn't stop there.
Freedhoff cited a 2015 study published in Pediatric Obesity, which found that weight was one of the most common reasons for youth bullying, more so than other forms such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religious bullying. And participants of the study, which included adults in Canada, the U.S., Iceland, and Australia, believed parents and teachers played a big role in decreasing weight-based bullying.
"Teachers, schools, coaches, educators of all sorts — please, unless it's essential (and it's difficult to imagine many circumstances when it would be), never weigh your students, and if you do, do so privately," Freedhoff wrote.
Relying on weight or BMI as the physical criteria of health is problematic because doing so fails to include other important aspects, such as social and mental health, notes the National Eating Disorders Collaboration in a 2011 report. "It assumes that normal BMI equals 'good health,' regardless of eating, physical activity, or other health-related behaviours," the report said.
Freedhoff also called out the use of BMI report cards, a controversial program that is more prevalent in the U.S. than in Canada, which informs parents of their children's risk of obesity.
In 2012, Don Walker, a guidance counsellor at a New Brunswick high school, created medical report cards, which measure blood pressure, cholesterol levels, BMI, and more, after he saw a "steady decline in the health of phys-ed students since the early 1980s," CBC News reported. The report cards encourage students to change their diets and physical activity levels, but they come with a risk.
In a 2006 review of U.K. and U.S. schools that used BMI report cards and weight screenings, the authors noted that these measurements could harm overweight children. The review found that parents put their children on calorie-restricted diets when informed of their BMI, which can be especially dangerous for youths who haven't reached puberty as it could stunt their growth.
Young girls who believed they were overweight were especially susceptible to low self-esteem, the review noted. When asked where they experienced the most stigmatization for being "fat," these girls cited negative experiences at school over the home.
Instead of targeting children's weight, Freedhoff suggests schools help children establish a healthy relationship with food by implementing programs such as in-class rewards, parties, fundraisers, planting gardens, and teaching kids how to cook healthy meals.
If your child is overweight, (you can calculate your child's BMI here or see your family doctor for more information on healthy youth weight) they are most likely aware, Parents magazine explains. They recommend making positive comments, such as pointing out how strong your child is, and never using the word "diet."
Mentioning the word "diet" to your child carries the risk that they will become obsessed with losing weight, Cynthia M. Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Parents mag. "We're seeing classic anorexia starting as young as age six," Bulik said.
Instead of telling children they need to diet, Bulik said parents should help their kids like their body by using these three tips: Showing respect for their own body, praising their child's effort, not their results, and avoiding comparisons to classmates.
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