The psychological and emotional consequences of pediatric obesity are often exacerbated by weight bias. Defined as “negative weight-related attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and judgments toward individuals who are overweight and obese,” weight bias has been linked to multiple deleterious outcomes in youth, including impaired quality of life and adverse interactions with parents, peers and healthcare providers. Research efforts to understand the impact and associations of obesity as well as methods to improve care among pediatric populations are widespread. However, few researchers have examined the potential influence of weight bias on the research process.
A group of pediatric psychologists involved in Stage 3 and Stage 4 pediatric obesity clinical and research activities assessed the potential for weight bias in research activities and came to a consensus on key areas needing to be examined in order to minimize weight bias in research.These key areas include: 1) research planning; 2) implementation 3) data analysis and interpretation; and 4) language considerations.
Important considerations for investigators are offered for each key area.For example, during the research planning phase, it is critical to consider other variables that could help explain the link between weight and a negative consequence (e.g., stigma or poor health care experiences). In terms of data analysis and interpretation, it is important that researchers minimize assumptions that lower weight is automatically linked to improved health. Language considerations include consistent use of person-first language.
Improving weight-related outcomes for children and adolescents is a research priority across disciplines. However, abundant caution must be taken that weight bias does not permeate research efforts, thereby preventing full understanding of the nature, course, and outcomes associated with pediatric obesity.