Poor Mothers Are Judged More Harshly Over Kids’ Weight, According To New Study

Low-income families face unique challenges when it comes to raising healthy kids.

Judgement in the parenting world is nothing new, but when it comes to kids' weight, a new study found that poor mothers are criticized much more harshly than others.

Canadian researchers looked at 138 low-income families in North Carolina over two years and found that mothers — specifically those who were black or Hispanic — were more likely to be judged by healthcare professionals and social workers if their children were overweight or underweight, Health Day reports.

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"All parents face some scrutiny over their kids' bodies when they go to the doctor, but our findings suggest poor mothers experience more scrutiny," explained study co-author Sinikka Elliott, a sociology professor at University of British Columbia.

"The stakes are also higher for these mothers as many feel they will be reported to social services if their children are overweight or underweight," she added in a press release.

Low-income families face unique challenges when it comes to raising healthy kids. Not only can struggles in the home affect stress and thus, kids' eating habits, but as U.K. columnist Barbara Ellen pointed out, having less income makes it harder for families to eat well in general.

"When parents have to find the cheapest food available for their family, it's nearly always going to be less likely to be fresh; more likely to be highly calorific (therefore 'filling'), as well as packed with additives whose addictive and metabolism-skewing properties should not be discounted," Ellen wrote in The Guardian.

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Additionally, 76 per cent of the low-income families involved in the study were below the poverty line and relied on food assistance programs, meaning they likely had no say in what was served.

Based on the study's results, Elliott says health care professionals, social workers and even other parents need to be more understanding of the challenges poor parents face.

"Their (childrens') eating habits are shaped not just by what happens at home, but by the food that's available at school, peer pressure and even the commercials on TV," she said. "It doesn't make sense to praise or blame parents, yet we do."


Co-author Sarah Bowen, a sociology and anthropology professor at North Carolina State University, also noted that it is wrong to think low-income families don't care about their kids' health.

"The mothers in our study cared a lot about their children's health and weight," Bowen said. "They knew that they should encourage their kids to drink more water, eat more vegetables, and be more active."

A healthy body mass index (BMI) for kids is anywhere between the 3 to 85 percentile on weight charts, according to Dietitians of Canada. BMI is calculated using height and weight to determine how much body fat a person has. But while BMI is a good starting point to evaluate health, it's important to note that this is only a rough estimation as the calculation doesn't determine whether your weight is from fat or muscle tissue, Live Strong reports.

Additionally, a 2017 international study found that 35 to 40 per cent of childhood obesity cases are inherited from parents, which is another factor when it comes to children's weight.

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