News Tuesday September 20, 2011

Childhood obesity increases risk of social stigmatisation, study suggests

A new study has shown the increased risk of problems of social isolation that can occur when a young child is obese or overweight.

The study, which took place in Australia, involved over 3,300 children who were tracked over a four year period. The first part of the study took place in 2004, when the children were of preschool age, and then a follow-up occurred in 2008. At both of these stages, the children’s height and weight was measured. Their primary caregivers underwent detailed interviews and completed questionnaires, which were also completed by teachers, in order to ascertain the quality of life of the children. The results showed that, of the children studied, 13% of girls and 16% of boys were classed as overweight, while 5% of both boys and girls were classed as obese.

The latter group of children were as much as 20% more likely to experience problems in relation to peer relationships by the time they reached the age of eight or nine, in comparison to children who were not obese or overweight. These problems were manifest as difficulties forming friendships, teasing and forms of social exclusion. The data collected was adjusted in order to take into account other potential factors that could have an effect, such as family income, but such adjustments did not change the results.

One of the researchers from the study, Michael G. Sawyer, MBBS, PhD, told WebMD that these kinds of problems “are potential risk factors for later mental health problems”, as “obese children may consider themselves to be the target of criticism, leading them to withdraw from peer activities.” Sawyer is a professor and also the head of the Research and Evaluation Unit at the University of Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Australia.

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