Nutrition Education Should Focus on Health, not Weight, for a Better Outcome
Nutrition Education Should Focus on Health, not Weight, for a Better Outcome

Soccer team huddle

People with overweight or obesity are rarely depicted exercising, eating healthful food or even looking happy. Instead, images of overweight and obese torsos are used to illustrate news stories about the obesity crisis. The heads of these people are out of the frame, and their hands are often holding an over-sized soda or some other unhealthy food.

Have you ever thought about what kind of impact these images have on an overweight or obese child? Does shaming people about their size motivate them to lose weight or make things even worse?

Healthy at Every Size (HAES) is a movement that encourages teachers, coaches, parents and healthcare providers to focus on health, not weight, when talking about nutrition and physical activity to children.

HAES emphasizes that being overweight isn't always a risk factor for disease, as is commonly believed. A survey by the National Institute of Health found that more than half of overweight adults who are told to lose weight are metabolically healthy (normal blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides) while one out of four healthy weight individuals are metabolically unhealthy, and are often overlooked by physicians who use weight as the only indicator of health.

The HAES approach can be useful for teachers who want to encourage healthy behavior in all of their students. Here are some tips from HAES:

  • Every body is a good body: Teaching children to value their body no matter what encourages nutritious eating and exercise because they're healthy activities, not because the child is told he or she must lose weight.
  • Singling out those who are overweight or obese for special nutrition or exercise intervention programs can increase anxiety and have the opposite effect from what was intended. It can also make kids targets for teasing and bullying by their peers.
  • Putting kids on a diet can also be detrimental, starting a cycle of loss and gain that can carry into adulthood and rarely leads to permanent weight loss, according to studies.
  • Instead of focusing only on a few children who may be overweight, teach all students the benefits of healthy eating, and make exercise accessible and fun for everyone on the playground. After all, people of all sizes can benefit from a healthy lifestyle!
  • Encourage a healthy school environment and encourage families to do the same. Including nutrition education in the classroom is a great way to start this new approach. Our nutrition lessons encourage students to eat from all five food groups and many of our programs have a strong family component.