Children who are overweight are often the butt of ridicule. So, a new study drawing connections between children's obesity and anxiety affirms what we already know to be true. Based on the research, obesity and mental health issues tend to develop together starting in kids as young as seven.
The study analyzed over 17,000 kids in the UK. Researchers assessed the correlation between obesity and mental health issues in over 17,000 kids born between 200o and 2002. At the ages of 3, 5, 7, 11, and 14, information on children's height and BMI were collected. Parents also had to answer questions about their children's mental health, including feeling low or anxiety. They then adjusted the information for things that affect obesity and mental health. These include gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, parent's mental health, and behavioral problems.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, children who were obese at seven were at a greater risk of mental and emotional health problems at 11. Additionally, those kids were more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI) at the age of 14. Though the study didn't look further into why these things happen in tandem, they say there are a host of factors.
"Children with higher BMI may experience weight-related discrimination and poor self-esteem, which could contribute to increased depressive symptoms over time (as has been shown in adults), while depression may lead to obesity through increased emotional eating of high-calorie comfort foods, poor sleep patterns, and lethargy," says co-lead Dr. Charlotte Hardman of the University of Liverpool UK.
As the children moved through childhood and adolescence, the rates of obesity and mental health gradually increased. They found that obesity and mental health problems tended to happen together between the ages of 7 and 14. About 8 percent of the children were obese by 14, and about double that amount reported feelings of low mood and anxiety. By adolescence, about a fifth of the children who were obese also had high levels of emotional distress.
"As both rates of obesity and emotional problems in childhood are increasing, understanding their co-occurrence is an important public health concern, as both are linked with poor health in adulthood. The next steps are to understand the implications of their co-occurrence and how to best intervene to promote good health," says other study co-lead Dr Praveetha Patalay of the University College London, UK.
Though this information is admittedly observational, it gives a lot of insight. Perhaps now that these parallels have been drawn, more research will be done.