People blame and judge parents for children's heavier weights
Published in Health & Fitness
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
Americans stigmatize parents of heavier children, specifically blaming them for their children’s weights, according to experiments conducted by our team of psychologists.
The more a person views parents as responsible for a child’s excess weight, the more likely they are to view such parents as bad parents who are lazy, overindulgent and incompetent.
Our findings corroborate what parents of children with higher weights have reported for years: that other people – friends, other parents, strangers or even their pediatricians – might blame them, dislike them and think they are poor parents.
In the U.S., about 1 in 3 children have body mass indexes that would be categorized as overweight or obese. The number has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning an increasing number of parents face stigma on account of their child’s weight.
This parental weight stigma is just beginning to receive serious scientific attention but could have major effects on parents, children and families.
For example, family courts across the U.S. and internationally have removed children with obesity from parental custody in large part due to their children’s weights. Family separation can have massive negative effects on children. Our work suggests that if judges react as our study participants did, they may view parents of heavier children as being bad parents simply because their children are heavier.
In reality, weight is not solely under personal control. In fact, dieting can cause weight gain. Excess weight arises from a complex interplay of genes, environment, diet and activity.
Psychologists also know that weight stigma is associated with pervasive negative consequences, including bullying, ignorant comments and feelings of painful invisibility – as well as diminished educational and economic opportunities and worse medical outcomes importantly not simply due to one’s weight. Experiencing weight stigma, insidiously, might itself facilitate weight gain and cause other negative effects.
If people blame and stigmatize parents of children with higher weights, what effects does it have on parents, on their children and on the parent-child interactions that are so important for healthy development?