Obesity and Establishments — Whose Opinion Counts?

There is always controversy around schools and what they ought to be doing about various problems. Obesity prevention is a prime example. Many Americans have the sincere and worthy desire to give each child every possible advantage in life. Others are like, “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!

The existence of Section 504 of 1973’s Rehabilitation Act inspired a mass of commentary, such as “Guidelines for Educators and Administrators,” published in 2010. This very comprehensive manual identified 18 major life activities which, if impaired, could define a child as having a disability. This, in turn, would signal the need for the institution to offer a service or accommodation to help put the child on equal footing with peers. It does not explicitly say so here, but several of the difficulties could apply in the case of obesity: caring for one’s self, walking, breathing, sleeping, standing, working, helping, eating, bending, and the operation of a bodily function.

Down to specifics

Page 31 offers a list of red flags that might indicate the need for action. If the child does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA, they might through Section 504. There are many other possible reasons for the school to take an interest and intervene, like persistent parental concern, or if the child is being expelled from school, or is in a substance use rehab program. One item says the school should be concerned “when a disability of any kind is known or suspected,” which covers a lot of ground.

This would include, it is to be hoped, the circumstance where a young person might need extra help because of obesity. The authorities are even reminded to take disabilities into consideration when a school is being built or remodeled.

What are accommodations?

The possibilities are many. The strategies come in batches: environmental, organizational. behavioral, presentation, methodology, curriculum. There is an exhaustive list of the kinds of small adjustments that good teachers delight in using and in originating. They would doubtless do a lot more of this sort of thing if they had fewer students and more support.

In an ideal learning environment, each child gets as much attention as the scion of a royal family, from a teacher who loves both the job and the child. Of course, nowadays, there are COVID-related issues in schools, and many different opinions on what should be done, and when, and how, and by whom. Even though obesity and COVID are bosom buddies, it must be admitted that since COVID came along, obesity has lost a large share of the attention it had been accustomed to.

Privacy can be a stumbling block

One of the ongoing problems is that, in order to give the appropriate care, schools need information. A treatment action plan is especially vital if the child has asthma, epilepsy, or diabetes. When accommodations need to be made, parents are expected to do things like fill out a form that asks a lot of nosey questions, and maybe to have a doctor fill out a form, too. With some folks, this just doesn’t sit right. Idealism and the urge to do good run up against other barriers in real life. A parent may deeply resent having a child go on record as “disabled” because the secretary in the principal’s office thinks the kid breathes funny.

Or, just to take an extreme example, say your kid is a serial bully who finally got thoroughly trounced by another child, and in your heart you know she deserved it. The last thing you need is the school calling you in on suspicion of abuse, to explain why your kid has bruises. It is, after all, possible to see why people don’t necessarily want the education system prying into every last detail of their business. The friction between parental rights and society’s demands will always make the handling of matters like obesity fraught with problems.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Guidelines for Educators and Administrators for Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” MemberClicks.net, 2010
Image by Steven Depolo/CC BY 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources