Healthier weights

When weight is talked about the focus is often on individual responsibility and choice, but in fact weight is very complex. As well as our personal genetics, biology, psychology, and behaviour, there are many factors that can affect weight and many of these are outside of our control. The Government’s Foresight Report back in 2007 found that many different interrelating factors can affect a person’s weight – like where we live, our experiences, our income, the wider culture, and our family context. The image below shows a map of some of these interconnecting factors.

Lots of evidence shows that weight is not simply the result of a person’s choices and behaviour. As data from the National Child Measurement Programme demonstrates, there are significant inequalities in prevalence of higher weight, with prevalence in the most disadvantaged areas more than double that of the least disadvantaged. Despite this understanding though, over simplistic narratives can often prevail and there are many mixed messages about food, diets, activity, and health which can be harmful by contributing to weight bias and stigma. This is characterised by negative, stereotyped, and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours based on weight, and in turn can lead to negative impacts on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Insight from the Pupil Wellbeing Survey in Devon 2021 showed a number of pupils are experiencing low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their appearance, as well as weight related anxiety and bullying, which can negatively impact school participation and attendance. 

Theoretical map of factors relating to bodyweight

Thematic Systems Map taken from Foresight’s Reducing obesity: future choices report (2007). 

Recognising the broad range of factors affecting weight and the negative impact of bias and stigma, Devon County Council are committed to providing a compassionate approach to healthier weights for children and young people. We want everyone to feel valued, without judgement or assumptions based on their size or weight. This approach recognises that the physical, social, and psychological environments that children and young people experience play a vital role in supporting their health and wellbeing, so we need to work collaboratively to help make these environments better. 

A compassionate approach to weight:

  • Puts children and young people at the centre, focusing on them and not just weight in isolation 
  • Recognises that weight might be largely out of the child or family’s control, removing blame 
  • Recognises and respects the context, knowledge, experiences, and wishes of children, young people, and their families
  • Focuses on health and wellbeing gains, that might be independent of weight changes for some people 
  • Helps children and young people pursue their own health and wellbeing goals without judgement or assumptions 
  • Builds up self-efficacy and self-worth
  • Recognises that weight alone is not always an accurate indicator of health 
  • Acknowledges and proactively challenges weight bias, stigma, and stereotypes
  • Focuses on prevention at a population/community level and provides tailored individual and family support when appropriate  
  • Evaluate current food provision and ensure nutritious and varied options are available at an affordable cost  
  • Work with your catering provider or cook to offer pupils opportunities to try new foods  
  • Engage with pupils and seek their views on school food and physical activity provision 
  • Provide access to drinking water and remove sugary and fizzy drinks from school premises  
  • Encourage pupils to develop positive eating behaviours and attitudes to food by avoiding moralising language (good vs. bad) and descriptors such as ‘treats’  
  • Encourage pupils to recognise their own hunger and fullness cues, e.g., not encouraging plate clearance or being made to feel bad for asking for more 
  • Support development of good self-esteem, self-efficacy and good emotional health through the curriculum and wider school ethos 
  • Remove promotion of diet clubs and provide good role modelling around weight talk, bodies, and appearance
  • Support development of good body image through PSHE provision and through wider narratives in school 
  • Ensure appearance and weight related bullying/teasing are addressed in the school’s bullying policy
  • Provide a variety of physical activity options for pupils of all abilities and interests to engage in, and help remove barriers if they arise 
  • Teach pupils about the benefits of physical activity and how it can provide lifelong benefits to physical and psychological wellbeing  
  • Encourage active travel and work with local organisations to identify safe routes, and facilitate active travel where possible e.g., walking bus  
  • Teach about the importance of eating a varied and nutritious diet to maintain good physical and mental health and support pupils to develop the necessary skills to enable this e.g., cooking, growing  
  • Ensure there is an awareness of services available for children, young people, and families who are seeking additional support, e.g., from the School Nurse  
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