The negative consequences of childhood obesity on physical health are well-recognized as are, increasingly, its associations with psychosocial and mental health problems, says Mark Wahlqvist. (Credit: f.king/Flickr)

Obesity weighs on kids’ emotions

Children who are obese are more likely to develop emotional problems than their slim peers, new research shows.

A study of more than 2,000 Taiwanese schoolchildren aged 6–13 years examined whether emotional disturbances (EDs), such as inappropriate behavior, relationship problems, depression, or an inability to learn, were associated with obesity.

Using the Scale for Assessing Emotional Disturbance (SAED), researchers investigated whether ED was associated with obesity by gender. SAED is a rating scale designed to assist identifying students who may be experiencing emotional and/or behavioral difficulties at school.

The negative consequences of childhood obesity on physical health are well-recognized as are, increasingly, its associations with psychosocial and mental health problems, says Mark Wahlqvist, emeritus professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University.

“Childhood obesity has been associated with psychological problems, but little is known about its association with ED in the educational setting, especially by gender,” he says.

“Knowledge of how emotional disturbance and obesity might be linked is currently limited, especially in Asia where child obesity is on the rise; and where societal and parental focus is often intense in regard to schooling; frequently with gender favoritism.”

The research found boys (16.5 per cent) were significantly more likely to be obese than girls (11.7 percent), however, while ED becomes more prevalent as children move up through the grades, obesity prevalence remains fairly constant.

The research found the occurrence of relationship problems was higher among obese (23.5 percent) than among normal weight (14.4 percent) and overweight (14.8 percent) children.

Conversely, the prevalence of obesity was higher among children with emotional disorders such as inability to learn and unhappiness or depression (16.9 percent), than without these issues (13.7 percent).

“In boys we found they struggled with relationship problems and in girls it was inappropriate behavior,” Wahlqvist says. “However, obesity doesn’t automatically mean young children will suffer from ED. Where obesity exists at the same time as psychological problems, prevalence of these problems increased as students progressed through the school grades.”

The findings, published in the journal Research in Developmental Disability, suggest there are extensive and complex interactions between body composition and emotions during child development.

“The early identification of children at risk of developing these combinations of physical and mental health problems may enable interventions that can help to prevent progression to more serious physical and mental health problems in later life,” Wahlqvist says.

“The results highlight the need for further studies of child health in relation to obesity and psychological problems.”

Source: Monash University

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