Asheley Skinner, PhD

My previous posts explained how obesity stigma appears in healthcare, even for children, and how to prepare to talk to your child’s doctor about weight. One of the next things to consider is how to talk to your child’s providers about weight stigma.

Patients are not responsible for telling their doctors about stigmatizing behavior. It is always the provider’s responsibility to be sure that they are treating their patients with respect, and working to understand their patients’ needs. But, for most providers, the stigma is accidental; they do not mean to upset or embarrass their patients. This means that patients who are willing to speak with their providers about stigma have a chance to help them understand the effect that their behavior may be having on patients and their families.

Talking about stigma with healthcare providers can be difficult, as many of us feel like we should not question their authority. However, if you begin the conversation by talking about the stigma that your child experiences outside of the doctor’s office, you can help your child’s providers to understand the problems that they are facing. Maybe your child is being teased at school, or perhaps a friend mentioned your child shouldn’t eat so much ice cream. These things hurt, and your doctor may be able to help your child cope with their feelings. Pediatricians spend a lot of time addressing children’s emotional health, not just their physical health.

When you talk to providers about weight or healthy behaviors, make sure that they understand your circumstances. A provider may suggest that the family or the child should do something that you know they won’t be able to do. If you don’t talk to your doctor about why you can’t do what they suggest, they won’t understand why your child’s behavior doesn’t change, and may even blame you for the lack of improvement. The best doctors will work with you to make changes that work for your family’s circumstances. Parents can, and should, work with their child’s doctor to improve their child’s health.

If you want to avoid talking about weight in front of your child, or if you want to focus on what is good for your child’s health, you should let your doctor know. Not everyone is okay with talking to their doctor about how they want to receive health information, and that’s okay. But, as a patient, you should always remember that a healthcare visit is supposed to about your needs. You should do your best to voice them.

Doctors have a lot to teach their patients, but patients and their families also have a lot to teach their doctors. Obesity is a complex problem; practitioners can learn how to better treat all aspects of obesity by learning from each family’s unique perspective.

About the Author:
Asheley Skinner, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has written many papers about the childhood obesity, including health outcomes and obesity stigma. She is committed to developing ways to improve obesity without causing unintended harm.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is not based on scientific research and has not been validated. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise or program mentioned in this blog post.