Children who are obese are at an increased risk for emotional problems that last well into adulthood. Obesity and the mental disorders they contribute to should be considered as serious as other medical illnesses.
A study at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that obese girls ages 13 to 14 are four times more likely to experience low self-esteem than non-obese girls. The study also reported that obese boys and girls with low self-esteem have higher rates of loneliness, sadness and nervousness. These children are most likely to smoke and drink alcohol compared with obese children with normal self-esteem. (Source: Pediatrics, "Childhood Obesity and Self-Esteem," January 2000.)
A recent University of Minnesota study reveals that children who were teased about being overweight were more likely to have poor body image, low self-esteem, and symptoms of depression. The study found that 26 percent of teens who were teased at school and home reported they had considered suicide, and 9 percent had attempted it. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. (Source: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, "Associations of Weight-Based Teasing and Emotional Well-being Among Adolescents," August 2003)
According to Dr. David Fassler, parents should be alert to the following signs and symptoms that might indicate an overweight child or teen is experiencing emotional distress: Your child seems to have reduced energy or interests and is reluctant to enter into social relationships or other activities; Your child seems increasingly sad, lonely, angry or withdrawn; Your child has few friends; Your child has thoughts of hurting him/herself or others; Your child is obsessed with eating and/or food; Your child is sleeping too much or not enough; and your child is reluctant to go to school.
In 1975, Hilde Bruche wrote, “There is no doubt that obesity is an undesirable state of existence for a child. It is even more undesirable for an adolescent, for who even mild degrees of overweight may act as a damaging barrier in a society obsessed with slimness.”
There is also a great amount of research suggesting that being overweight is associated with a wide variety of negative characteristics. Overweight people are often seen as unattractive, appealingly displeasing, morally and emotionally impaired, and discontent with themselves (Harris, Harris, & Bochner, 1982). According to Crocker, Major, and Steele (1998), overweight individuals have a socially devalued identity. Children who are overweight become aware of others’ negative views on obesity, which in turn, diminishes their self-esteem. Because others devalue them, children who are obese may devalue themselves. These children may also devalue themselves because they fall short of internalized social standards for acceptable weight and appearance. Those who are obese may expect others to judge them based on their weight, which in turn may affect their own behavior in ways that tend negative social interactions (Feingold, 1992).
Children who are obese also endure negative attention in the forms of teasing, rejection,
And harsh treatment that also contribute to the decrease of their self-esteem. A 1994 National Education Association Report on Discrimination Due to Physical Size stated, "For fat students, the school experience is one of ongoing prejudice unnoticed discrimination, and almost constant harassment.” recent University of Minnesota study reveals that children who were teased about being overweight were more likely to have poor body image, low self-esteem, and symptoms of depression. The study found that 26 percent of teens who were teased at school and at home. Children who are obese not only experience lowered self-esteem as a result of peer taunting, they also show significantly elevated levels of loneliness, sadness, and nervousness (Strauss, 2000). Because approval from peers is particularly