Obesity is a growing problem among youth throughout the world. Children who are overweight face challenges that their peers do not, and they are at risk for developing physical and psychological problems. Health issues that are contributed to obesity include diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and sleep disturbances. Taken alone these issues can impact psychological well-being. When added to peer taunting and bullying, these physical conditions can exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness. These issues all coalesce to affect socialization, academic performance, and well-being in a significantly negative way.
There is an abundant amount of research examining the effects of adolescent obesity on well-being and adult outcomes. But less is known about early childhood obesity. To explore this issue further, Amy van Grieken of the Department of Public Health at Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands recently led a study that looked at how weight, body mass index (BMI), and parental concern affected physical and psychological health in a sample of 2,372 children who were 5 years old. The children were evaluated for weight, BMI, bullying, self-esteem, and physical health at 5 and 7 years old. Grieken wanted to see how they adjusted over time, but also how weight trajectory influenced that adjustment.
The results revealed that children who were overweight and obese were more likely than average weight children to be victims of bullying, have low self-esteem, and perform poorly academically. Although their physical health was not poorer than average weight children, they visited the doctor more and parents exhibited more concern over weight-related health problems. Interestingly, underweight children also had overly concerned parents and more frequent visits to the doctor, but they did have higher rates of documented physical ailments. Of interest also was the fact that underweight children reported high levels of bullying.
When Grieken looked at weight trajectory, she found that as weight increased from age 5 to 7, so did psychosocial maladjustment and parental concern for overweight children. Grieken hopes that these findings will lead to more intense focus on psychological well-being for obese and overweight children. She added, “Appropriate counseling for teasing and insecure feelings should be offered in addition to, or as part of, interventions aiming at a positive change in weight status.”
Van Grieken, A., Renders, C.M., Wijtzes, A.I., Hirasing, R.A., Raat, H. (2013). Overweight, obesity and underweight is associated with adverse psychosocial and physical health outcomes among 7-year-old children: The ‘Be Active, Eat Right’ Study. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67383. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067383
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