As we know firsthand from the hundreds of children, adolescents and young adults who have arrived at Wellspring programs in recent weeks, overweight young people pay a huge emotional price for their excess weight. Overweight and obese youth are frequently teased, tormented, and victimized because of their weight. Weight-based teasing and stigma (also called weight bias) often makes overweight children and teens feel miserable.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University – created by one of Wellspring’s founding Advisory Board members – has released an important new video to help parents and teachers understand the severity and impacts of weight bias at school and at home. We urge all Wellspring Newsletter recipients to click on the following link to view this important video:
Its importance is highlighted by a new study from University of Missouri researchers finding signs of the negative consequences of being overweight as early as kindergarten, and especially among girls. “We found that both boys and girls who were overweight from kindergarten through third grade displayed more depression, anxiety and loneliness than kids who were never overweight, and those negative feelings worsened over time,” said Dr. Sara Gable, associate professor of human development and family studies at University of Missouri.
“Girls who were consistently overweight, from kindergarten through third grade, and girls who were approaching being overweight were viewed less favorably than girls who were never overweight,” said Dr. Gable. “Teachers reported that these girls had less positive social relations and displayed less self-control and more acting out than never-overweight girls.”
In a separate study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers at University of Kentucky and Georgia State found that being overweight – or even believing they are overweight – might predispose some teens to suicide attempts.
The study looked at more than 14,000 high school students to determine the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and suicide attempts, as well as the relationship between believing one is overweight and suicide attempts.
“Our findings show that both perceived and actual overweight increase risk for suicide attempt,” said lead study author Monica Swahn, Ph.D. That association was as strong for boys as for girls, contrary to what the researchers had originally expected.
Other recent studies point to the psycho-social impact of obesity in adults. In a study presented by researchers at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in May, obese women were 3.9 times more likely to be depressed than normal weight women, and obese men were 2.5 times as likely to be depressed as their normal weight counterparts. As BMI category rose, the relative prevalence of major depressive disorder increased as well.
In another study, University of Hawaii researchers investigated how weight impacts the quality of romantic relationships. The study reported that overweight women had lower quality relationships, which they predicted were more likely to end. They partnered with less desirable men and thought their partners would rate them as less warm/trustworthy.
Finally, a study by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute presented at a May conference hosted by the European Association for the Study of Obesity reported that men who were obese at the age of 18 had nearly 50 percent less chance of being married by their 30s and 40s. The study was conducted among more than 500,000 Swedish men born between 1951 and 1961, and the relationship held true regardless of the men’s intellectual performance or socio-economic position.
Clearly, the psychosocial consequences of obesity take a toll on overweight people that in some cases may prove at least as detrimental to the quality of their lives than the better known adverse health consequences of this serious disease.