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.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Tires, a couch and an oven door found on Wantage Road clean up

Prince Rupert volunteers cleared bottles, bags and other items on the dirt road on March 18

Prince Rupert teams off to a strong start at Junior All Native Tournament

Under-17 and Under-13 boys both registered early victories

Smithers pellet plant ready to build

Pinnacle Renewable Holdings and West Fraser Timber approve construction of plant in Smithers.

Dan Hendrickson goes all in to win Poker Nights tournament

Prince Rupert Curling Club’s annual poker tournament raised approximately $700

Métis Society opens office on Fraser Street

There are 350 people who identify as Métis in Prince Rupert according to the 2016 Census

MVP of the Week: Leaving it on the mat

Tatum Acker turned her newfound passion for wrestling into a zone championship

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Cop looking for distracted drivers gets hit

Road safety investigator clipped by truck trailer while looking for distracted drivers

YVR wants you to help name three new puppies

Say hello to the Vancouver Airport’s new assistance pups

Suspect who attacked autistic man in Ontario could be from B.C.’s south coast: police

29-year-old man was sent to hospital with serious injuries

Privacy watchdog to explore Facebook leak

Canadian expert says his analytics company helped Trump campaign capitalize on private Facebook info

Woman struck and killed by self-driving Uber vehicle

Ride-hailing company suspends all road-testing of such vehicles in U.S. and Canada

Spring snow melt uncovers dirty needles in B.C. city

Vernon residents are upset with number of needles being found around town with spring melt

US would host majority of games at 2026 World Cup

A decision on the winning bid will be made June 13 at the FIFA Congress in Mexico

Most Read