By Jane Harrison, R.D., Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth
Sarah was a bright and cheerful 10-year-old. Suddenly, she developed an intense fear of going to school, was having trouble sleeping and became withdrawn. Concerned, her mother brought Sarah to the school guidance counselor. They discovered that she was being teased about being heavy.
Aside from the health effects of being an overweight or obese child, there are far-reaching emotional effects. Loneliness, depression and low self-esteem can be the fallout in these children. And, bullying or teasing by peers often fuels the problem.
Though teasing is common among all children, overweight kids are prime targets. And because children are extremely dependent on their peers for social support and self-esteem, it's no surprise that repeated teasing has negative consequences on kids.
The emotional toll
Studies have confirmed feelings of loneliness, isolation and poor body image in overweight kids. One small study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that obese children actually score their quality of life as low as children receiving cancer treatment.
As a result, overweight children are more likely to:
What parents can do
As parents, it's important to watch for signs of low self-esteem, sadness or loneliness in your child. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that your child is depressed. Encourage open communication so that your child becomes more comfortable and confident about sharing emotions. This can help with their feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and fear.
Let your child know he or she is loved and appreciated whatever his or her weight. Studies have shown that parents themselves are often the cause of their child's distress about weight. Overweight kids need support, acceptance and encouragement, not criticism.
Talk to your child about his interests and passions. Help to identify and develop his strengths. This could be related to sports, music, chess or other hobbies. This helps to boost self-esteem and confidence.
Learn how to be an advocate for your child - at home and out in the world. Talk to your child's teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator. Explain your concerns. Investigate whether there is a school-wide program addressing this issue that can help to:
Finally, be a positive role model. Encourage exercise at home, especially activities that involve the whole family. Provide healthful meals and snacks, and make it a family affair. If your child sees you enjoying healthy foods and physical activity, he or she is more likely to do the same.
These Web sites are for your informational use only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It may not represent your true individual medical situation. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a qualified health care provider. Also consult your healthcare provider before starting any medications or supplements or beginning or modifying any exercise program.
© 2012 OptumHealth, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of information on this page may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of OptumHealth, Inc.