We are all likely aware of the negative impact that excess weight can have on our kids’ physical health, but what about the impact of obesity on their emotional and psychological health?
Not as much is known about this topic because there isn’t a clear and consistent relationship between weight and mental health. Not all thin children are happy and not all overweight or obese children are sad.
What we do know is that kids who are obese or overweight often face weight-related stereotypes, social exclusion and discrimination. Dealing with these challenges can contribute to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor body image. Additionally, we know that children who are obese suffer from a lower health-related quality of life. Studies show that children and adolescents who are obese report a quality of life that is comparable to children who are diagnosed with cancer and are receiving chemotherapy.
Despite a rise in public awareness and zero-tolerance policies in many schools, weight-related bullying – particularly cyber bullying – is a common experience for many overweight kids, and can have a devastating impact on their emotional well-being. Obese children, especially those with low self-esteem and poor body image, are at a greater risk of being victims of bullying. A vicious cycle can then be set into motion:
Weight-related bullying can lead to an increase in negative feelings including anxiety and symptoms of depression like irritability, sad mood, low energy and fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. This can lead to emotional eating, which can then result in further weight gain, which may lead to increased bullying, which then starts the cycle all over again.
Females tend to be more vulnerable to the negative impact of weight-related bullying due to the importance of body image often placed on their self-esteem and self-worth.
What is most concerning is the relationship between bullying and suicide, especially in obese youth. Obese kids who are victims of weight-related teasing or bullying are 2-3 times more likely to report thoughts of suicide or to engage in self-harming behavior, such as cutting. This is an alarming statistic.
Sadly, there isn’t a quick fix and losing weight doesn’t always make the problems disappear. However, increasing awareness of not only the physical impact, but the psychological impact of obesity on children and teens, is a good place to start.
At the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition, we have a multidisciplinary team that believes in treating the physical and psychological effects of obesity. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about a referral or contact the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition to receive more information or request an appointment.
For teens who still struggle to manage their weight through diet and lifestyle changes alone, bariatric surgery has proven to be an effective option for losing weight and minimizing – or often reversing – many obesity-related conditions. Click here to learn more about weight loss surgery, or find out if you might be a candidate for bariatric surgery by answering seven simple questions
Tyanna Snider, PsyD, is a psychologist in the Pediatric Psychology Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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