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

Police briefs: stolen bikes, unlocked cars and falling trees

Oak Bay police files from Sept. 17 to 23

Bookstores fundraising for four Victoria elementary school libraries

10th annual Adopt a School program runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 7, with four locations in Victoria

Municipalities can help tent cities with provincial aid, says UBCM president

Provincial housing efforts can be facilitated on local level

Cool Aid Society cleans up Woodwynn Farms

Casual labour pool helps to clear debris

Recent rash of thefts in Sidney similar to past sprees

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP warn residents to lock their vehicles

Live bear cam: Let the fishing begin

Watch bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park catch their dinner live.

B.C. electric vehicle subsidy fund drains faster than expected

Province adds another $10 million to incentive fund

‘I’ll never forgive you:’ Victim impact statements at hearing for Calgary killer

Curtis Healy was found guilty of first-degree murder Friday in the death of Dawns Baptiste.

Man accused of mailing bomb to his brother in B.C. has died

Leon Nepper was found in ‘medical distress’ at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre on Sunday

It’s shaping up to be quite a finish in CFL’s West Division standings

The Calgary Stampeders (10-2) are first, four points ahead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-5).

Twice-convicted killer set to inherit multimillion-dollar company found guilty of father’s murder

A Toronto judge ruled that Dellen Millard is guilty of first-degree murder in death of his father,

Campaign seeks to add Farsi to B.C. school curriculum options

Group wants Farsi added to list of nine languages in policy covering second language requirements

Trudeau urges leaders to follow Nelson Mandela’s example at UN tribute

Peace summit in New York marks 100th birthday of former South African president

Most Read