WithAll Blog


Harmful Weight Talk: What is it & why is it so bad for kids’ health?

Feb 11, 2021

In today’s society, talking about weight is often a sensitive subject, particularly around children and teens. As adults who care a lot about the kids in our lives, it can be hard to know how to approach conversations about weight with young people. Read on to learn more about harmful weight talk and the impact it has on kids’ health.

What is weight talk anyways?

Weight talk is any mention of your, a child’s, or someone else’s weight, shape, or size. This includes talking about weight in any context, including:

  • Positively commenting on someone’s weight – “you look so great, have you lost weight?”
  • Negatively commenting on someone’s weight or appearance – “My stomach is so flabby – gross!”
  • Commenting (positively or negatively) on the bodies of those you see on TV, in magazines, or social media.
  • Commenting on your own body.
  • Teasing yourself or others about weight, shape, or size.

Why is weight talk harmful for kids?

While many of us would never talk about a child’s or another person’s weight in a negative way, we find it easy or even expected to comment positively or to comment on our own bodies.

Kids learn by watching what you do and listening to what you say. If you are commenting on your weight, kids hear that and may start to have negative thoughts or concerns about their own weight. Even seemingly positive comments about weight can be harmful because they may reinforce unhealthy food restrictions, unhealthy exercise, or other harmful behaviors that result in the person’s current weight. Similarly, the person may be experiencing factors such as genetics, illness, or food insecurity that may be impacting their weight. There is no way to know what is really going on with the person you are commenting on.

Research shows that weight talk has a negative impact on kids. In fact, girls as young as age six years old have reported concerns about their body image and gaining weight. And most kids will report some body image concerns before they leave grade school.

Talking to a child with judgment about weight is known to contribute to negative thoughts about one’s body. Weight talk can lead children to develop a negative self-image. It can also lead children to develop harmful habits in an attempt to control their weight at a time when their bodies are growing and their brains are developing.

What about health? Isn’t it healthy to be mindful of weight and to help our kids do so?

Research shows that focusing on weight does not contribute to a healthier lifestyle. It’s also important to remember that size does not equate to health. If it is health that you are concerned with, you need to keep the focus on health.

Health and well-being are the result of many factors. When you put too much emphasis on weight, you miss the point! The point is that you want the kids in your life to feel good. There are many factors that contribute to an individual’s well-being: relationships that foster connection, hobbies that show and remind us who we are, physical activity that invigorates and refreshes our minds and bodies, learning new things, taking on challenges and succeeding, time spent outside, and more. When you shift your focus away from weight, you can instead consider all the individual’s circumstances and help yourself and your kids increase your overall well-being. Learn more here.

Aren’t we all just being a bit too sensitive? Shouldn’t we instead be helping our kids to not take everything so personally?

Kids will and do receive negative messages from all over, especially considering the increased use of media in our digital world. It’s important to help kids navigate that and learn which voices to listen to and which to disregard. As a trusted adult, you have a powerful voice. Decades of research repeatedly point to the incredible influence that adults have on children’s body image, relationship with food, and the likelihood that a child will go on to develop an eating disorder. You can act now to shift the way that you talk to the kids in your life about food and body and protect their mental and physical health for years to come.

Okay, I understand that talking about weight is harmful to the kids in my life. So, what can I say instead to help promote physical and mental health?

We all want the kids in our lives to lead happy and healthy lives. Not talking to the kids in your lift about weight doesn’t mean that you can’t help them form habits that will protect their physical and mental well-being for years to come. You can check out examples of alternate of ways of talking about food & body around the kids in your life. Have a specific question you want to ask an expert? Our What to Say Hub members can now submit questions to be answered during our NEW, EXCLUSIVE monthly “What to Say Q&A Series” where you’ll hear from trusted sources in kids’ health on how to handle real-life situations. Submit your question here and it could be answered during an upcoming series. Check out our first episode here.

What to Say Coaches Challenge

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Take The Pledge

THE PLEDGE: I believe that words matter. I want to make a positive impact on the kids in my life by stopping harmful diet and weight talk. I am committed to making sure that every child gets a chance to develop healthy relationships with food and body.


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Shannon assists with the logistics of development and operations and making every day run as smoothly as possible. Her day-to-day focuses on our Recovery Support Program, budget management, events, and administrative support. She enjoys being part of the nonprofit world and finding ways to help enhance the organization. She has a heart for serving others and helping people succeed.

Shannon has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health & Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus College and a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) from Walden University.

Outside of work, you can find Shannon chasing her two girls around, attending sporting events and finding the next brewery or winery to explore.

Lindsay leads our operations, programming, fundraising, and communications to better fulfill our mission. She enjoys engaging with our supporters and stakeholders to build stronger connections to our work. Outside the office, you can find her planning her next trip, exploring the Twin Cities, or reading her book club’s latest pick.

With ten years of experience in nonprofit and foundation administration, Lindsay is a creative project manager working to strengthen all our operations. She loves being a part of a team deeply dedicated to discovering innovative and effective strategies to end eating disorders and is excited to invite others into this important work. Efficient and collaborative, she executes activity across all operations, including fundraising, events, communications, and programming. Lindsay has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Northwestern, St. Paul, and a fundraising certificate from the University of St. Thomas. She and her family live in Richfield, MN.

As Executive Director, Lisa leads WithAll’s strategic growth as a sustainable social enterprise dedicated to the prevention of and healing from eating disorders.

Lisa has more than 20 years of experience in public affairs, community relations, and law, and nearly 15 years of experience in non-profit leadership, most recently at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She is a graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, a member of the Minnesota Bar, and a Minnesota Supreme Court appointee to Minnesota’s Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. She volunteers with her daughter’s school and with youth sports.

Lisa does this work because she knows eating disorders are not a choice; they are deadly, and they are everywhere. She also knows kids are not born with harmful thoughts and actions around food or their body—and it’s our job as adults to keep it this way so they can focus their precious brains and time on things that matter.

Lisa finds laughter, all children, and the numerous variations of sparkling water to be delightful.