The Weight of School Culture

I’m not sure how many of you know, but I’ve been studying girls, body image, confidence and success for quite a long time.  In fact, a good chunk of my work at Tufts University was on how girls feel they “fit in” to a culture that tends to sensationalize thinness and to reject people the more they deviate from the thin ideal. This cultural issue has a high cost. It isn’t only a problem because it creates a hotbed for eating disordered behavior and poor self worth, but also because it can cultivate social problems such as bullying, social rejection, and academic challenges.

A new study shows that a supportive, respectful peer culture, which makes children feel as though they “fit in” is just as important to a student’s success as high academic expectations.  Specifically, those students who were categorized as clinically “obese” were less likely to go to college than those students who were considered of medically “normal” weight. This finding was much more severe for girls than for boys.

Who did it? Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas, with colleague, Chandra Muller

You can have the best curriculum in the world, and if there’s something messed up in the culture, then you set out to fail…anytime you put 1,000 kids together, you’re creating a culture. (Crosnoe)

Where was it published? July issue of Sociology of Education

Where did the data come from? Crosnoe used data collected on nearly 11,000 teens from 128 schools from around the U.S. as part of the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest and most comprehensive survey of health-related behavior among teens between 7th and 12th grade, which started in 1994.

What did he find?

Teens who were categorized as “obese” tended to have to cope with more social isolation.

They were less likely to go to college or take advanced math and science classes even though their peers were doing so. (Crosnoe)

Gender Issues

Girls who were considered obese were less likely to attend college than thin girls.

“The more it makes you stand out from the crowd, the worse it is,” says Crosnoe.

  • How do I measure up? Girls are more likely to compare themselves to their female classmates and peers around them than are boys. Because body appearance is more central to girls’ self-concept than to boys’, it’s likely that this gender difference implies that weight has a more powerful effect on the lives of girls and their academic careers.
  • Fitting in and Standing Out: In school cultures in which students were less likely to be considered clinically obese and overweight, 61% of “obese” girls didn’t continue school.  However, in a school in which at least 1/3 of students were indeed considered medically obese, only 17% of “obese” girls did not go on.

“Your school and your culture affects how you view academics and your future.  Social ups and downs are a big distraction…many of the kids said it’s hard to sit and do your homework when you’re worried about what will happen in school the next day.” (Crosnoe)

Beating the Odds: Resilient Kids

  • How did some socially isolated students do well despite their social problems?  Key characteristics: very supportive parents, at least one good friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, and finding a niche in an extracurricular activity.

Again, it’s underscored: Enrolling your child in a positive extracurricular activity where character, confidence, connection, individual competence, caring and compassion are stressed, such as in an academy that is using Powerful Words Character Development, is more important than ever.  Children who may not be socially thriving in school can still be extremely successful if they receive the support, education, and chance to succeed in an extracurricular activity like martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, dance, cheer, or other powerful after-school opportunity.  Parents who need a recommendation, please contact our team.

How did you fit into your school culture?  How has your child found his or her place within the school culture?  How do you see a powerful extracurricular helping this situation? Please share your “secrets” so we can spread the ideas to all those who can use them!

Please comment below.

Have a Powerful Day!

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3 Responses

  1. […] the rise in childhood “obesity” and “overweight” people are scrambling to make deals with their children over the amount of […]

  2. […] the Body Image Blog for additional information on body image, media, pressure on girls or boys, weight, and body […]

  3. […] about body issues these days—on the one hand, we’re dealing with what is being labeled “an obesity epidemic”  and on the other hand, we’re dealing with more and more children with body image […]

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