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Childhood Obesity - Psychological Consequences
Negative Self-Image and Low Self Esteem of Obese Children
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Psychological Consequences of Childhood Obesity

All children have to construct an identity and a concept of themselves. Part of this construction involves monitoring how significant others, friends and peers respond to them, along with the value judgements that accompany those perceptions. This takes place in environments that are overlaid with cultural and societal attitudes, values and conformities. Overweight and obese children develop a sense of self, self-esteem and cope with the consequences of their body status against this back-drop.

Childhood Obesity Negative Image
Most children are aware of obesity as socially undesirable from a very early age. This awareness appears to be generalised from studies using stereotypes, with similar negative responses regardless of gender, age, or own body status. Consequently the overweight child is perceived as 'fair game'.

Childhood Obesity & Low Self-Esteem
Children can become aware of their body status at relatively low levels of fatness through mechanisms such as reference to photographs and name-calling. In middle years, children perceive fatness impacting on appearance and athletic ability, but not social competence or global self worth. Also the importance that being overweight assumes differs between children. A review of self-esteem and obesity found similar numbers of studies where no relationship was apparent, as those where obese children had lower self-esteem (studies with up to 12 year-olds), and there was some evidence for high self-esteem protecting against obesity. An inverse relationship between obesity and self-esteem appeared more consistent in adolescence. They concluded that low self-esteem may be characteristic of overweight children and adolescents, affecting body esteem to a greater extent. All of which in turn affects self-efficacy, self-enhancement and self-protection.

Consequences of Childhood Obesity
The consequences of obesity are many and varied for children (and their families). These can range from a dislike of PE to the family moving home because of bullying, or from indifference to feeling depressed and suicidal. Overweight children may be labelled as immature or disruptive when they are behaving normally for their age, but their appearance is up to three years older. Parents, particularly mothers, may be perceived as fussy, over-protective or to blame, which impacts on the whole family.

Negative Effects of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is complex and there is evidence for general negative effects of weight on the psyche. However, children differ in their cognitive and emotional development, their relative importance of being overweight, their family structure and background, as well as their genetic make-up. They are also subject to differences in parenting style and family dysfunction. All of these factors result in individualised responses and coping strategies to being overweight or obese.

Source: Dr Laurel Edmunds, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford.

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