Poor mothers face greater scrutiny over their children’s weight: UBC study

In B.C., 153,300 children – or one-in-five – are living below the poverty line

Low-income mothers who use food assistance programs face a high level of surveillance over their children’s health and weight, new UBC research suggests.

The study, in which Vancouver-based sociology researchers interviewed 138 mothers and grandmothers of young children and low-income communities in North Carolina, found that mothers felt their children’s bodies— specifically, their sizes— were a reflection of how well they were feeding them, which put them at risk of being labeled uncaring or incapable.

“All parents face some scrutiny over their kids’ bodies when they go to the doctor, but our findings suggest poor mothers experience more scrutiny,” said Sinikka Elliott, study co-author and UBC assistant professor.

“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.”

In Canada, Statistics Canada reported in 2017 that 1.2 million children are living in poverty, defined as an income of $4,266 for a four-person household.

In B.C., 153,300 children – or one-in-five – are living below the poverty line, according to First Call BC.

READ MORE: Feds to spend millions to reverse low take up rates for low-income benefits

READ MORE: Nearly half of recently immigrated kids in B.C. are poor: report

In the study, researchers focused on low-income mothers, especially black and Latina mothers, of children who are either overweight or underweight face greater accusations from doctors, nutritionists and social workers that they don’t properly feed their children compared to mothers whose children are deemed to be a healthy weight.

The children in the study ranged from two to nine years old, with about half deemed to be a normal weight, three per cent underweight, 12 per cent overweight and 32 per cent obese.

Researchers found the mothers were worried about losing custody of their children if they are deemed to be inadequately feeding them.

Black mothers in particular shared stories of being accused of, or being afraid of, accusations of neglect on the basis of their children’s weights or appetites, the study showed.

“There’s a common misconception that low-income parents of overweight children don’t know or don’t care about their children’s weights, but that’s simply not true,” said Sarah Bowen, study co-author and associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at North Carolina State University.

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

Elliott said the findings highlight a need for greater understanding and less stigma around body size and the challenges facing low-income parents.

“Many different factors affect how kids’ bodies develop,” said Elliott. “Their 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. It doesn’t make sense to praise or blame parents, yet we do.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Community and collaboration drive Binche Fishing Derby

Family time, forward thinking and positive initiatives to be highlighted

Dr. Paul Stent awarded Key to the Community

On June 4, local physician Dr. Paul Stent was presented with the… Continue reading

Audit finds Canfor did not comply with bridge maintenance legislation

Per a news release issued by the Forest Practices board, an independent… Continue reading

Tenth B.C. Justice Summit continues dialogue on Indigenous justice

Per an information bulletin courtesy of the Ministry of Attorney General and… Continue reading

Fort St. James Taekwon Do enjoys success at provincials

The Fort St. James Family Taekwon Do team has achieved enormous success… Continue reading

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

B.C. pledges $550 million for Indigenous housing

Aboriginal leaders say federal government needs to pitch in too

Sweden beats South Korea 1-0

Sweden gets benefit of video review in World Cup

Blue Jay Roberto Osuna not expected to appear in court

The Blue Jays pitcher is charged with one count of assault by Toronto police

Global warming cooks up ‘a different world’ over 3 decades

Over 30 years the world’s annual temperature has warmed nearly 1 degree according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Family separation policy starts dividing Republicans

Deep concerns arise over the child separation policy in the U.S.

Strong earthquake in Japan kills 3

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck the area early Monday near Osaka

BC Lions defensive back Marcell Young levels streaker in home opener

Young hit the fan near one of the 45-yard lines

Police: Taxi driver who hit 8 Moscow pedestrians fell asleep

Two Mexican World Cup fans were among those hit

Most Read