While childhood obesity has acquired epidemic proportions across the globe, it comes at the heels of a culture that has made it a habit of worshipping all things thin. The conflict inspired by these two facts has made it even tougher for overweight children to build the confidence required. India has a record 14.4 million obese children, a figure that is second only to China in the world. A problem that has found roots in developed and developing economies alike, childhood obesity has some seriously detrimental effects on the child’s mental framework.
The biggest problem faced by an overweight child is establishing supportive social connections and relationships. Here’s why childhood obesity can directly affect a child’s social interactions:
Lack of Confidence
Being overweight or obese can leave a child shaken and under-confident. Childhood is an impressionable time where children often are still trying to figure themselves out and to face ridicule at this time because of the shape one’s body at this age can leave a lasting negative impression. A study by the University of Missouri points to how being overweight/obesity in children has a direct correlation to academic performance and social skills. At a time when children are judged by peers and the adults in their lives by either their social standing among their friends and their academics, failing to perform to these standards can hurt the child’s already fragile self-esteem.
Researchers at Penn State and Johns Hopkins University, USA, have found that children who have a heightened response to stress are more likely to be overweight or obese. The research also found that the cortisol levels, the stress inducing hormone, stayed high in children with higher than usual body mass index. Children who show a higher response to stressors are at a greater risk of gaining and retaining the excess weight. Stress can also increase a child’s risk of eating without feeling hunger. This is emotional eating and can only work to increase a child’s weight. This is a vicious cycle which ends in the child seeks comfort in food as a way to shield themselves from their low self-esteem. A similar research was conducted by the Endocrine Society and found the same result, overweight and obese children have higher than normal cortisol and stress hormone levels.
There are many studies and researches that have showcased that there is a strong correlation between obesity in children and depression. Constant feeling of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and hopelessness can lead to depression in the child. While this is a largely psychological issue, it has strong correlation to a child’s social skills and physical well-being. The child might withdraw even further and lose interest in activities they usually enjoyed. Childhood obesity can be a huge contributing factor to depression and can have some serious long term problems.
Bullying and Discrimination
Overweight children often come to fear the bullying and discrimination that they have come to expect from their peers. This translates into their other relationships as well. If the atmosphere at home is also negative, it just goes to further exacerbate the problem. The constant discrimination faced by obese children at school, on the playground, and sometimes even at home, is something that leaves a deep impression on the child. Children at this age are not given to confiding about their problems pro-actively and parents and caregivers find out about the bullying and resulting hurt well after the fact.
Being overweight or obese is in most cases an outcome of poor lifestyle habits especially eating, sleeping and activity levels. Being overweight or obese is largely reversible by the child and their family transforming their current habits to ones which will help them maintain a healthy life both for them and their children.