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

Fluoxetine, A Drug Used For Depression, May Adversely Affect Bones, While Another Drug, Escitalopram, Appears To Be Safer

Clinical studies provide evidence that treatment with drugs for depression increases the risk of fracture in humans. Some of these […]

This Cow Ran Away From A Farm To Join Herd Of Wild Bison

We have domesticated many species of animals for work and our own pleasure. The most infamous of them are probably […]

Managing Mental Health In College Students Using A Web-Based Intervention Method

College is a critical time when students experience major transitions. For example, students may be moving away from family, friends, […]

Lunar Floor-Fractured Craters Provide Evidence For Ancient Magmatic Intrusions

Molten rock (magma) is generated in planetary interiors and rises toward the surface, sometimes cooling and freezing before it gets […]

Microbial Taxa Exhibit Distinct Biogeographic Patterns Depending On How Rare They Are

In 1934, Baas Becking had already anticipated the fundamental role played by environmental conditions in shaping microbial communities, by stating […]

Anorexia Nervosa: Needing To Eat Is Not Enough; You Have To Want It

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a debilitating disorder with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. From an evolutionary standpoint, […]

Automatic Measurements Of Contact Angle And Curvature In Pore-Space Images

Determining how carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored securely and safely in underground aquifers, oil and gas flow rate and […]

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?