Preventing Childhood Obesity Will Not Reduce Bullying

sharma-obesity-bullyingRegular readers will be well aware of my concerns about weight bias and discrimination as well as the problem of weight-based bullying. In fact, there are few patients I see in my clinic, who do not recount traumatic bullying about their weight as one of their most vivid childhood memories.

I am therefore happy to see mention of bullying in the Ontario Healthy Kids Panel’s report, released earlier this week.

Indeed, the report quotes parents, who express their concern about this issue,

“If their weight is not proportionate with their friends, then they feel different, they look different, they may even behave different or be treated differently, and feel like they won’t fit in. If they’re on a team, then they’re not performing the same. Then they look in the mirror and feel like there is something wrong with them.”


“My son tells me that he didn’t see anything wrong with himself until his first day of school when he saw that he looked different than everyone else. As he went through elementary school, he was mercilessly bullied and he bullied back. When he reached high school, he had to wear a uniform but the company didn’t even make them in my son’s size. So, I found a similar shirt and sewed the school decal on it. That made [the bullying] worse.”

It is important to note that the report does point out that,

“Many of the severe physical problems associated with being overweight or obese as a child – such as heart disease – may not appear until adulthood, but the social and emotional problems start early.”

This is not something that obesity prevention programs can address – indeed, the greater the focus on the problem of childhood obesity (in media, through schools, parents, social media, or anyone else), the worse the consequences for the kids, who happen to carry a few extra pounds.

Thus, unfortunately, there is little talk in the panel’s recommendations about promoting “size acceptance” and cautioning government and others to not discriminate against those, who do happen to be larger.

Personally, I would have loved to see a cautionary word or even a specific recommendation to address weight-based bullying as one of the first recommendations or even as a preamble to the entire document (and not simply stuck in one of the last few pages, almost as an afterthought).

While I fully support the fact that we need to take the issue of childhood obesity seriously and make every effort to prevent it (and provide treatments where necessary), let us also make sure that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Edmonton, AB