ADVERTISEMENT

Weight Diversity: A Stigma-Reduction Mechanism to Reduce Weight-Based Achievement Disparities

The odds of academic success are stacked against youth with overweight and obesity. On average, youth with higher weight do more poorly in school and are less likely to attend college than their peers with normal weight. The widespread misconception is that excess weight is to blame for underachievement, yet a recent study published in School Psychology suggests that weight-based achievement disparities are reflective of the school environment.

By relying on a novel measure of school “weight diversity,” UCLA researchers Leah Lessard (CPhil) and Jaana Juvonen (Ph.D.) found that students with higher body weight do not perform more poorly in all schools. Weight-based achievement disparities were non-existent in middle schools that had students with greater variation across weight categories (e.g., normal, under-, over-weight). However, in schools with a limited representation of weight categories (i.e., less weight diversity), youth with higher weight received lower grades and standardized achievement test scores.

ADVERTISEMENT

The findings were based on a large sample of close to 6,000 sixth grade students attending 26 urban public middle schools. In addition to data on body-mass-index (BMI), the researchers collected school records data on course grades and standardized achievement test scores.

What is it about weight diverse schools that equalizes academic performance? Drawing from research on other types of social stigmas (e.g., based on race/ethnicity or disability status), Lessard and Juvonen propose that greater variation in body shapes and sizes across students widens social norms and facilitates inclusiveness. Weight diversity, in other words, may function as a stigma-reduction mechanism.

Compared to weight diverse schools, in schools where most students are within normal weight (and those with higher BMI “stand out”), the stigma of high weight is likely to be intensified in ways that compromise academic performance. For example, other studies have shown that teachers readily judge students with high weight as lazy and unintelligent. Also, classmates have similar biases, as youth with high weight are frequently bullied and rejected by their peers.

Lessard and Juvonen argue that in schools with greater weight diversity, youth with high weight are likely to be less negatively stereotyped by both peers and teachers, and hence, in the position to do well academically. However, not all schools have much weight diversity. In such schools, increasing exposure to diverse bodies in positive ways (e.g., via print media or apps) may be critical to promoting the acceptance of all individuals regardless of physical appearance, and as such, equalize opportunities for academic success.

ADVERTISEMENT

With continued efforts to address adolescent obesity, interventions must be careful not to intensify weight stigma by focusing only on those with high weight. Instead, the findings of the current study suggest that more attention is needed to foster inclusive school environments that reduce weight stigma so that all youth are able to reach their academic potential.

These findings are described in the article entitled Body weight and academic achievement: The role of weight diversity in urban middle schools, recently published in the journal School Psychology.

Citation:

  • Lessard, L. M., & Juvonen, J. (2019). Body weight and academic achievement: The role of weight diversity in urban middle schools. School Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000317

Comments

READ THIS NEXT

Redheads: They Have Genetic Superpowers

Redheads were found to have several genetic superpowers compared to others, they are more tolerant of pain and naturally produce […]

Scientists Create Incredible 3D Models Of The Scene In Which Images Were Taken

Here is a fun experiment to do: Find a room in your house or apartment that only has one window. […]

Can Rotating Hot Plasma Jets In The Solar Corona Become Unstable?

Solar jets are small-scale eruptions of hot plasma flowing along vertical or slightly oblique magnetic field lines. They are ubiquitous […]

In Vitro Propagation Of Cacti To Evaluate Genetic Stability Of The Regenerated Plants

Cacti are beautiful plants. They belong to family Cactaceae and have a unique morphology. Their cladodes (the “stem” of the […]

The Melody Of Sugar: A New Dimension In Diabetes Research

Diabetes Mellitus refers to a group of prevalent metabolic disorders manifested by the persistent rise in blood sugar level. Once […]

Using Photoacoustic Moving Sources In Trace Gas Detection

The photoacoustic effect, which was discovered by A. G. Bell in 1881, refers to the generation of sound as a […]

Advanced Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling For The Prediction Of The Dispersion Of Airborne Materials From Puff Releases In Complex Urban Environments

One of the key problems related to safety and human life is the emissions of hazardous substances into the atmosphere […]

Science Trends is a popular source of science news and education around the world. We cover everything from solar power cell technology to climate change to cancer research. We help hundreds of thousands of people every month learn about the world we live in and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Want to know more?