20, February 2010
Childhood obesity takes psychological toll as well
Dual shot: Vaccine park, labs get nodThe ballooning waistlines of children hit the spotlight when Michelle Obama admitted publicly her daughters had an unhealthy body mass index. While many urge kids to slim down to avoid heart disease and other physical ailments, the emotional consequences from teasing and low self-esteem could be just as debilitating, scientists say.
About 37 percent of children in the United States are overweight and roughly 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is common knowledge that these fat children may be set up for a life at the doctor’s office with health risks including type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and sleeping problems. But these same kids are more likely to have a hard time with emotions and with their peers.
“Overweight kids are more likely to have depression and low self-esteem, to be teased or bullied, and to bully other children,” said Catherine Davis, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia. “These can be serious problems for these children.”
Researchers point out that no matter your age, carrying around extra weight has its psychological consequences. “Overweight and obesity are terribly stigmatising conditions, regardless of age,” said Sara Gable of the University of Missouri, Columbia. “Living as a member of a stigmatised group is stressful and can produce feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.”
Gable said research on other stigmatised groups, such as racial minorities, shows these negative feelings can interfere with academic performance and other aspects of a person’s life, and there is good reason to think the findings would apply to children struggling with weight problems, Gable said.
While some responded to the First Lady’s divulging of her kids’ weight problems as insensitive, psychologists say pretending the issue isn’t there doesn’t help anyone. And they offer tips for how parents can be sensitive to their child’s feelings while encouraging healthy behaviours. AGENCIES