As September approaches, the UK government is promoting weighing at school to track children’s ‘health’. When asked the question ‘is weighing children at school harmful or helpful?’ you can probably already guess my answer. This strategy can only cause harm to our children. It will go on to encourage eating disorders and body fixation. Here’s why…
Trigger warning: eating disorders/weighing/body image
Fixation on body size and bullying
Children know who has the latest toys or who wears the best brands. They are already aware of so many things that differentiate them from their peers but at that age, all they want to do is fit in. They want to be accepted.
Jo Frost (Supernanny) conducted an experiment with Cambridge University to see when young girls start to worry about their body image. Their method found that half of the six year olds in their sample wanted to be thinner. You can watch the video of the full experiment here.
Weighing students at school will encourage discussions of body size in the classroom. Children are already aware of how individuals with different body sizes are treated. As a society, we label people in larger bodies as unhealthy and value them less than people who are smaller. Children are also aware of these unfortunate societal norms. Bullying due to body size is already prominent among young people and weighing children will only worsen this.
Imagine a child who is larger than their peers. They are already excluded from certain activities and picked last because others assume they will be bad at sports. Children are at an influential age and we should not be exposing them to the risks of being weighed. Their body size or how much they weigh does not define their worth.
Increased risk of eating disorders
One of the big problems with weighing our children is that we do not promote body positivity along side monitoring their growth. We know that the media promotes unattainable body ideals and yet we rarely challenge the views of children who believe that smaller is better. There is a lot of work to be done by parents, teachers and the media to change our perceptions of body size and what it means to be healthy.
One thing that’s certain is that fixating on a number on the scales is an unhealthy behaviour that can lead to eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is defined by restrictive and compulsive behaviours. The mortality rate of people with anorexia nervosa is higher than any other mental disorder.
A fixation on weight is a common behaviour among all eating disorders.
“I just want to lose 3 more pounds and then I’ll be happy.”
What happens when children compare their weights? A child with a healthy weight may have a friend with a slightly lower healthy weight. Children use each other as role models so a fixation on weight begins. This fixation on weight can stay with people for the rest of their lives and develop into an eating disorder.
Is that really something we want to encourage?
Children are still growing so why are we fixated on their body size?
Underweight children may still get bigger, just like overweight children may still get smaller. The distribution of body fat at such a young age will depend on how the child is growing based on their own genetics and growth spurts can change a child’s body quickly.
Discussions surrounding weight are unnecessary. Health exists at every size. If you want your child to engage with a healthy active lifestyle, then the best thing you can do is model those behaviours. Meals with fruit and vegetables, whilst also not stigmatising junk food and enjoying everything in moderation. Children should not be aware of or have access to weight loss techniques. Dieting or calorie restriction can largely impact a child’s growth as well as their mental health.
Body shape or size doesn’t need to be a topic of conversation for children. When we place a value on them as individuals based on their weight or appearance, we are telling them that they are only worth as much as they appear to be. In reality, children are worth so much more, and it’s important that they grow up knowing that. We want them to be confident and intelligent. We want them to care more about their actions and the effect that they have on the world than their reflection in the mirror.
Is weighing children at school harmful or helpful?
So when your child’s school comes asking for permission to weigh them, think carefully about the impact that this could have on your child.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, contact BEAT Eating Disorders service for support.
Always remember to take a paws,