Here’s the phrase I want you to remember while we talk about a study that is getting some press: “Researchers admit there are other influences that they did not measure including the students’ self-esteem, how much school they missed and what kind of school environment they had.”
A study of kids in Britain found that girls classified as “obese” tended to get grades in English, math and science that were the equivalent of a D compared to girls who are considered “healthy weight” who got the equivalent of a C.
Obviously the concept of “healthy weight” is flawed since there are people with various health issues at various sizes and there is no size that you can attain at which you’ll be immortal unless you get hit by a bus. Still, let’s look deeper at the study.
The study subjects were all from the Bristol area. They were assigned a body size value at 11, 13 and 16 and their national test grades were analyzed at those ages.
The study took socio-economic class and whether the girls’ mothers smoked in the first three months of pregnancy into account. But then there’s that paragraph: “Researchers admit there are other influences that they did not measure including the students’ self-esteem, how much school they missed and what kind of school environment they had.”
They chose not to take into account how living in an environment that tells girls that a fat body proves they are lazy, weak willed, immoral, and unhealthy might affect academic performance. They chose to ignore the prevalence of appearance-based bullying and how that might affect girls (like distracting them, or causing them to stay out of school or skip class, or causing them to avoid drawing attention to themselves by doing things like participating in class or asking questions). They chose to ignore research that shows:
- 47 percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures
- 69 percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape
- 42 percent of first-to-third grade girls want to be thinner
- 81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
I wonder how many of the girls in the study are on diets and how being undernourished and constantly hungry might affect academic performance? These seem like the kind of things that might affect grades. The researchers ignored the fact that fat boys didn’t have the same correlation to lower grades and, instead of looking to a world that makes girls terrified of being or getting fat, they decided to blame the girls’ bodies:
Professor John Reilly of Strathclyde, the lead investigator, concludes: ”Further work is needed to understand why obesity is negatively related to academic attainment, but it is clear that teenagers, parents and policy-makers in education and public health should be aware of the lifelong educational and economic impact of obesity.”
What seems clear to me is that teenagers, parents, and policy-makers in education and public health should be aware of the lifelong educational and economic impact of body shaming, fat phobia, and so-called health campaigns that shame some kids for how they look, thereby support the bullying and stigmatizing of fat kids.
We can have a complete discussion about kids’ health without shaming any of them for how they look. By focusing on developing body confidence, a life-long love of habits that support health, and a blame free, shame free approach to healthcare, we can support all kids to develop to their full potential and avoid a life of yo yo diets, body hatred, low self-esteem, and the relentless pursuit of a stereotype of beauty masquerading as health with all of the “educational and economic impacts” that come along with that.
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