Stop punishing kids for gaining weight and end weight stigma

Stop punishing kids for gaining weight and end weight stigma

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Dr Natasha Larmie started this petition to West Sussex County Council

Weight loss diets are ineffective and unsustainable for most people.  The government’s own Foresight report makes it clear that weight gain is a complex issue, and we now know that focusing on reducing weight rather than improving health has the opposite effect than intended.  This is particularly relevant in children and young people, in whom eating disorders and ob*sity are on the rise. [1] 

Weight stigma (sometimes called weight bias) is discrimination based on a person’s weight.  The word stigmatise means to shame someone, and usually results from a lack of understanding or awareness of the issue at hand.  A recent case has come to light in which two children were subjected to weight stigma over the course of 10 years by West Sussex County Council.  This culminated in the removal of two teenagers from a loving home because they failed to lose weight. [2]

The council claim that this was a "sad and unusual case" but maintained that they acted in the best interest of the two children involved.  However, the court transcript is available to the public makes it clear that they both “clearly had some very good parenting, as they were polite, bright, and engaging”.  Whilst there were some other minor issues raised, the judge made it clear that these would not justify the making of a care order.  Ultimately it came down to the fact that there had been "no reduction in the children’s weight since the proceedings began", and she believed that it was therefore in their best interest to remove them from their home.

Most people do not understand the complexities of human weight regulation, and believe that weight loss is a simple case of “eat less, move more”.  This could not be any further from the truth.  According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, talking about weight or shaming people for their weight increases their chance of developing an eating disorder AND ob*sity.  Furthermore research shows that while some diets may result in a modest short-term weight loss of 5-10%, most people will regain the weight within 5 years.  People with a BMI higher than 30 are highly unlikely to achieve a BMI that is considered "normal". 

We believe that a genuine lack of knowledge and education coupled with the rampant implicit bias that exists within society today lead to numerous failings on the part of the healthcare profession, the local authority and the judge presiding over this particular case.  We are calling upon West Sussex County Council to order an internal investigation in to why such blatant weight-based discrimination was allowed to occur over the course of 10 years, and why both children did not receive the correct care and support that they deserved.

Furthermore we are calling on the government to act now to address the way that weight stigma impacts everyone, especially the most vulnerable members of our society.

For more information, please visit www.fatdoctor.co.uk

[1] https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/3/e20161649

[2] https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2020/B62.html

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