Dr. Joseph Barber, MD., recently wrote a letter to the editor in the Erie Times News about the unfortunate fact that being overweight is a stigma in an increasing number of children. Obesity rates for children with disabilities are nearly 40% higher than for children without disabilities. The rates for adults are frightening: approximately 60% higher than for adults without disabilities. Reasons for this can vary; they include:
- A lack of healthy food choices and/or dietary restrictions
- Medications that can contribute to weight gain
- Physical limitations that reduce a person’s ability to exercise
- Lack of accessible environments that enable exercise
With obesity comes other health problems, including asthma and migraine headaches. In children with ASD who were obese, other health issues that were associated include anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. As Dr. Barber points out, obese children often miss more school and underachieve academically compared to average weight peers.
Peers, parents, and family members can contribute to stigmatization; for example, teachers may establish lower expectations for obese children. Of course, in today’s social media-saturated world, many negative associations can further increase feelings of depression, negative self-esteem, binge eating and social isolation.
What can we do? We must be positive supports in the lives of anyone, with or without disabilities, who struggles with obesity and encourage others to do so as well.