Singled out: The emotional toll of childhood obesity


Childhood obesity is a rising epidemic in America. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of 6- to 11-year-old U.S. children who were considered obese rose from 7 percent in 1980 to almost 18 percent in 2012. More than one-third of U.S. children and teens were considered overweight or obese by 2012. To raise awareness of this growing epidemic, September has been designated as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

According to an article on childhood obesity and depression, the Surgeon General estimated that “the annual cost of obesity in the U.S. in 2000 was $117 billion, and that obesity epidemics have been followed by pediatric epidemics of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.”

Obesity brings a slew of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, putting these children at risk for heart attacks. The emotional affects obesity can have on a child can last a lifetime and include bullying, low self-esteem, depression and emotional eating.

Obesity and depression

In a culture that portrays slenderness as beautiful, the social stigma of obesity can leave lifelong scars on children. These children become scared to wear a bathing suit in public or to eat in front of their peers because they fear they may get bullied or called names. Overweight children are more likely to get teased and bullied than children who are not overweight. Years of bullying can have long-term emotional and mental effects, leading to depression and unhealthy behaviors.

Depression is more difficult to diagnose in children because children do not internalize feelings as adults do. Although feelings of hopelessness and guilt are difficult to gauge in children, they can indicate depression. Other signs include depressed mood or increased irritability, a failure to make expected gains in growth and fluctuations in sleep patterns. Children might use food to hide their emotions, often known as emotional eating, which can lead to even more weight gain and potential health problems.

Time for parents to step up to the “plate”

Stopping this epidemic begins with educating parents, teachers and adults who take care of children. Children do not have the autonomy to go grocery shopping or cook their own meals. They eat what is given to them. A breakfast of donuts and a dinner of McDonald’s takeout can lead to a lifetime of health problems and emotional scars. It is time for parents to step up to the “plate” and learn about proper nutrition.

If you have or know a child who is depressed because of bullying due to obesity, seek professional help. White River Academy offers a therapeutic boarding school for 12- to 17-year-old boys who struggle with depression and other mental health disorders. For more information, call 866-520-0905.

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