Childhood Obesity and Link to Depression
A new study suggests that by the time children with obesity enter the first grade, they are already likely to be withdrawn and show early signs of depression.
The findings were based on research that looked at the interpersonal and intrapersonal issues that were experienced by 1,164 children, ages six to seven, attending schools in rural neighborhoods. The researchers gathered data from child self-reports, peer socio-metrics, and teacher reports. The working hypothesis of the study was that children who are overweight or obese struggle socially and emotionally and these struggles appear early on in a child’s life.
Current statistics show that childhood obesity has quadrupled since the 1980s. One in twenty children today is diagnosed as severely obese. In this study, children were considered overweight for their age if their BMI was at or above the 85th percentile, and obese if their BMI was at or above the 95th percentile. Children with a BMI between 5 and 85 were considered normal weight. The children lived in rural areas where adult obesity rates ranged between 28% and 41%.
Researchers found that severe obesity is a psychosocial risk already at age six. In the study obese children were socially neglected, but severely obese children were ostracized and bullied. These children were found to suffer great (emotional) harm, and they struggled with loneliness, depression, aggression and were also at much higher risk of skipping school days and dropping out of school.
The researchers confirmed that the more overweight the child, the worse the social consequences. Obese children were less likely to be mentioned when children were asked who they played with, and more likely to be identified when kids were asked who they don’t like. The researchers also theorized that being bullied, teased or ostracized and feeling depressed could instigate more overeating. Children might engage in more emotional eating or they might totally drop out of any physical playtime for fear of being teased. Both behaviors would likely lead to further weight gain,
The researchers believe their study reinforces the need to intervene early and strongly to help the child manage their weight. Equally important is the clear indication that intervention and prevention strategies need to begin in the very early grades, to enhance peer relationships and to diminish teasing, bullying and ostracizing behaviors. Helping children to form friendships despite their size differences can have a huge payoff, as part of life skills. It can also help to minimize negative treatment of children who struggle with weight issues.