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Heavier children are more likely to face social and emotional problems as they grow up. They are more likely to be bullied by their peers and are likely to struggle in their social relationships as early as when they are eight to nine years old

Heavier Children are more likely to Face Social and Emotional Problems as They Grow Up

We have often seen that obese individuals are at the receiving end in a social gathering. Leaner individuals often crack a joke at their expense and they are more likely to be a subject for ridicule. However, have you ever wondered what is the treatment meted out to obese and overweight children? A recent Australian study published in the journal Pediatrics, has found that heavier children are more likely to face social and emotional problems as they grow up. They are more likely to be bullied by their peers and are likely to struggle in their social relationships as early as when they are eight to nine years old.



The study was taken up to find the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and quality of life of young children. 3363 children participated in the study. Their parents and teachers were interviewed, first when the children were four to five years of age, and again after four years. They were questioned regarding the children’s mental and behavioral health and whether they were suffering from any emotional problems, hyperactivity or inadequate social skills. The BMI of the children was also measured.



It was seen that at the ages four and five, 13 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls were overweight. Similarly, 4.5 percent boys and 5.2 percent girls were obese. It was found that even those children, whose BMI was just 1.6 points more than their peers, faced isolation and teasing at a later stage of life.

Stigma of being Overweight makes the Children withdraw themselves from Social Activities

By the time these children were eight to nine years old, they had difficulty in social interactions with their peers. They were 15 percent more likely to receive an evaluation of “concerning” regarding their social interactions. Similarly, the overweight or obese kids were 20 times more likely to get an evaluation of “concerning” on the scale of emotional development. The stigma of being overweight makes the children withdraw themselves from social activities. They are afraid of being teased by fellow kids. Teachers often report childhood emotional problems in such children.

According to Michael Sawyer, a professor at the University of Adelaide and the lead author of the study, the quality of relationship that the children enjoy with their peers at this young age has a profound effect on their mental health as they grow up. If they are overweight, they tend to isolate themselves from social activities. Such children are more prone to develop mental illnesses like anxiety or depression later on when they grow up.

The study however, did not find any relationship between being overweight or obese in childhood and the likelihood f developing hyperactivity or other conduct disorders. The researchers of the study intend to follow up these children further, to find association of childhood obesity with other mental illnesses in the future.

The results of the study support the idea of taking weight at an early age, into consideration by the health care providers. Preventive steps need to be taken at that stage itself to prevent the child from becoming a social recluse with emotional problems when he grows up.

  • “Four year prospective study of BMI and Mental Health problems in young children”, by Michael Sawyer et al, Pediatrics, published online September 19, 2011, accessed on October 3,2011
  • “Heavier kids experience more social problems”, by Kerry Grens, Reuters, published on September 22, 2011, accessed on October 3, 2011
  • Photo courtesy of 3059349393 on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/3059349393/3434095379/