- Starting from the age of seven, children may enter a cyclic pattern of obesity and emotional disorders, which can be difficult to break.
- A British study found no correlation between obesity and emotional difficulties in very young children, but the link becomes apparent by the age of 7 and gets stronger as children get older.
- Within the age bracket of 7 to 14, average BMI and emotional difficulties were found higher in girls as compared to boys. However, both genders have similar risks of encountering some extent of obesity or mental health difficulties.
- The correlation between high BMI and emotional problems could be driven by factors like low self-esteem due to weight-related bias, leading to depression over time which in turn can lead to obesity.
- An unhealthy lifestyle that includes excessive screen time, lack of physical exercise, and an unhealthy diet can be countered by lifestyle changes including a more balanced, plant-based, less processed food lifestyle, daily physical activities, and less screen time, which can help improve self-esteem, gut health and manage weight.
Commencing from the age of seven years, children may become entangled in a relentless cycle of obesity and emotional disorders, making it challenging to break free, according to a British study.
The exact cause of this struggle remains ambiguous. However, recent research indicates that as time progresses, children who are obese are more likely to experience anxiety and mood changes, and children with emotional disorders are more likely to become obese.
“Expanded recognition that higher weight and emotional disorders often coincide could be crucial for parents,” said study co-author Charlotte Hardman, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool. “Health care providers trying to preempt and intervene early may find the dual-target approach beneficial.”
Understanding the Bond between Mental Health and Obesity
Hardman and co-author Praveetha Patalay followed the mental health and body mass index (BMI) of over 17,000 British children born between 2000 and 2002. (BMI is a body fat index based on height and weight).
Although no linkage was discovered between obesity and emotional dilemmas among the very young, the link was noticeable by the age of 7 and grew stronger as the children aged.
Children who were obese at age seven were at a heightened risk of emotional problems at age 11, which then foresaw a high BMI at 14, the study found.
Fluctuations in BMI and Emotional Health
“In particular, higher body mass index and emotional problems seemed to coincide in middle childhood and adolescence, from ages 7 to 14, but not in early childhood at ages 3 and 5,” said Hardman.
Moreover, within this age bracket, girls,on average, exhibited higher BMI and emotional difficulties than boys. However, considered almost equally uncertain of encountering some degree of obesity or mental health difficulties, such as anxiety or mood swings, were both genders within this age range.
Additionally, approximately 8% of children had already reached clinical obesity by age 14. By this age, almost twice as many children were dealing with anxiety and characteristics identified as a “bad mood,” according to the research.
Possible Underlying Causes
While the study did not explore the root causes or establish definitive cause and effect, a theory was given. “Children with higher BMI may face weight-related bias and low self-esteem, which might contribute to increased depression over time while depression could lead to obesity through high-calorie comfort food binges, poor sleep habits, and lethargy,” said Hardman.
Breaking the Cycle
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist, said this correlation has many possible origins. “Children may be more susceptible to these influences in addition to being bullied, ridiculed, and stigmatized by their peers,” she said.
However, this cycle can be broken. Heller stated that excessive screen time, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy diet can be addressed with lifestyle changes. “Parents and caretakers should offer a balanced, plant-based, and less processed food lifestyle, daily physical activities, and less screen time. All these factors can help improve self-esteem, gut health, and manage weight,” she proposed.
For more insights about childhood obesity, please visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.