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Psychological Effects Of Childhood Obesity

Obesity in the present scenario affects 30% of children, thereby making it the most common chronic diseases of childhood. It’s probably more than a physical problem. Apart from the cosmetic problems, childhood obesity invites problems like hypertension, diabetes and other conditions associated with obesity. Childhood obesity can also lead to grave psychological and emotional disturbances.

Symptoms & Causes

While diagnosing the symptoms of obesity one should know the demarcation between the terms “over weight” and obesity” which are often used interchangeably. A person is considered overweight when his/her Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 30 and as obese if the BMI is above 30.

A child suffering from obesity may exhibit psychological effects like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and emotional instability. Owing to peer pressure the child may also develop an anti-social attitude which may eventually lead to his complete isolation. Very often the child may also fall prey to suicidal thinking which crops up as a result of constant bullying by the classmates.

Risk Factors

Many factors which work in combination increase the child’s risk of being obese.

Diet- Consumption of high calorie food loaded with soft drinks, candies and desserts is the major cause of obesity. In a recent study done on 550 children over a 19 month period it was found that the likelihood of getting obese increased by 1.6 times for every additional soft drink consumed on a per day basis.

Lack Of Exercise- Physical inactivity is also a serious cause of morbid obesity.

Watching television for hours, playing video games and munching junk food contribute to the problem. Exercise helps to burn calories and lack of it leads to deposition of fat. Children who exercise less are more likely to get obese.

Genetic Factors- Polymorphism in various genes which are responsible for basal metabolism predisposes the children to obesity. Progeny of overweight parents are likely to put on weight easily and this likelihood increases especially if high calorie food is available.

Developmental & Medical Factors- Studies have found out that breast feeding in infancy reduces the chances of obesity in children in later life. Cushing’s syndrome also causes childhood obesity. This disease is caused due to excess of hormone –glucocorticoids.


Higher levels of depression, low self-esteem, poor body image and anxiety are the complications of psychological effects. Peers play an important role in an adolescent’s life in governing psychological well-being. As a result higher levels of depression are found in obese tweens. Children dread of going to school or participating in activities. This social stigmatization can lead to poor performance at school and dropping out. Poor body image can precipitate disorders like bulimia.


Childhood obesity continues to be a challenging problem. The statistics have revealed that one in five children is overweight today and this number continues to increase. Since there are no medications for the treatment of obesity change in life style is the only solution to combat the problem. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise can only help in preventing obesity to creep in and eventually the psychological effects it gives rise to.

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