Young People in Essex Shamed By School Initiatives Tackling Obesity

A new report launched this week by Healthwatch Essex has found that young people in the county can feel shamed by school initiatives designed to tackle obesity.

The YEAH!3 report, which completes a trilogy of pieces of research which look at health and social care for young people in Essex, found that well-intended campaigns and initiatives often had unintended consequences, causing fear or shame around body weight and impacting on self-esteem.

Combined with the relentless pressure of social media, merchandising and perception that ‘thin’ was equated with ‘healthy’, young people described a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ in which those who were most ashamed of their bodies actually became less likely to exercise due to self-consciousness.

Dr David Sollis, CEO of Healthwatch Essex, said: “We know from speaking to children of an even younger age in Essex, that many do not get the recommended amount of exercise and that physical inactivity is a significant source of lifestyle-related illness in adults. So it’s important that ways are found to engage with young people which encourage them to change the behaviours that can ultimately be harmful to them longer-term.

“What this report has highlighted is that some of the measures used by authorities have had the opposite effect in some circumstances. Some of those we spoke to recalled their school sending letters to the parents of overweight pupils, which caused feelings of guilt and embarrassment. In fact, some young people even reported feeling uncomfortable to exercise in front of their peers at school in PE classes.

“Messages about nutrition and exercise are important public health messages but, from listening to young people’s experiences, it is clear that the promotion of health outcomes must be balanced with the promotion of positive body and self-esteem, otherwise the initiatives designed to support and help young people in Essex risk becoming counter-productive.”

This particular report engaged 717 young people over a six-week period and the trilogy of reports completes three years of engagement with nearly 2000 young people across Essex. To read the report visit our library.