Factors That Increase Child BMI May Mean Poor Mental Health

Woman helping child eat eggs at tableVarious lifestyle factors—such as skipping breakfast—can affect body mass index (BMI) in early adolescence, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found. Investigators also found a correlation between an increase in BMI and a decrease in psychosocial well-being.

Childhood Lifestyle Factors, BMI, and Mental Health

Researchers used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which gathered data on children born in the United Kingdom between September 2000 and January 2002. Data was collected on 16,936 children at ages 3, 5, 7, and 11 years old.

Participants fell into four categories: 83.8% had a stable BMI within the recommended range, 13.1% had “moderately increasing” BMIs, and 2.5% had “high increasing” BMIs, and 0.6% had decreasing BMIs.

Using a regression analysis, researchers were able to find correlations between early psychosocial factors and BMI at age 11. Skipping breakfast, smoking during pregnancy, a high maternal BMI, and irregular bedtimes correlated with membership in the “moderate” and “high” increasing BMI groups.

Children whose BMI increased over time scored worse on measures of mental health. They were more likely to have difficulties getting along with peers. They also reported lower body satisfaction, self-esteem, and happiness. Children in the “high increasing” BMI group were more likely to use cigarettes and alcohol.

Previous research shows children who experience pediatric obesity are more likely to experience depression, body image issues, and other eating and food issues. They may also be more likely to be involved in bullying, exhibit aggressive behavior, and have symptoms of oppositional defiance.

Importance of Health Lifestyle in Childhood

The study’s authors say their research points to modifiable health risk factors that can affect BMI and mental health in early adolescence. While parents concerned about children’s weight may focus on diet or physical activity, this research points to the role of a healthy lifestyle—not just caloric intake—in adolescent weight.

Other research points toward a similar conclusion. Another recent study found a correlation between earlier bedtimes in preschool and a reduced risk of later obesity. A 2006 study of adult women found that sleeping less than five hours per night correlated with an increased obesity risk of 15%.


  1. Kalra, G., De Sousa, A., Sonavane, S., & Shah, N. (2012). Psychological issues in pediatric obesity. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 21(1), 11–17. doi:10.4103/0972-6748.110941
  2. Kelly, Y., Patalay, P., Montgomery, S., & Sacker, A. (2016). BMI development and early adolescent psychosocial well-being: UK Millennium Cohort Study. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0967
  3. Patel, S. R., Malhotra, A., White, D. P., Gottlieb, D. J., & Hu, F. B. (2006). Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. American Journal of Epidemiology,164(10), 947-954. doi:10.1093/aje/kwj280

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  • Scott


    November 21st, 2016 at 2:51 PM

    Oh there is no doubt to me that many of these types of things tend to always seem to go hand in hand.

  • candace


    November 22nd, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    You do begin to see it as a cycle of repetitive behavior that sadly goes from one generation to the next.

  • Richard


    November 22nd, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    Ok so the real answer is that most of these issues contributing to poor mental health as well as obesity start in the home. So what can we do to fix that? There are no controls over who can or cannot have children even though quite frankly there are times when I certainly wish that there were more rules about that! Not everyone needs a child especially if u are already caught up in a vicious of non education and poor health care of your own. Why would you ever want to introduce another into that very same sort of lifestyle?

  • Starla


    November 23rd, 2016 at 9:30 AM

    What i find to be so ridiculous are the people who talk about the fact that they do not understand why those who live in poverty can be overweight and obese, and for the most part I would say that it is because all of the crappiest food is usually the cheapest and available to a lot more easily access than healthier foods. There are some people who never even have access to any fresh fruits and vegetables and I find that to be very sad. They are doing the best that they can with what they have been given and still have to live stifled and thwarted at every turn.

  • Lou


    November 25th, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    Clearly there is a very strong connection between one’s mental health and one’s physical health. How you take care of one or don’t in some cases is going to be a direct reflection upon the other. I don’t understand why it has taken us so long to figure all of this out.

    Or maybe it really hasn’t, we all know it, and yet we still refuse to do anything about it for either ourselves or our families.

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