Obesity and emotional problems, such as feelings of low mood and
anxiety, tend to develop hand-in-hand from young as age 7 years
According to New Research being presented at this year's European
Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (28 April-1 May).
The analysis of a large nationally representative sample of over
17,000 children in the UK find that regardless of their socioeconomic
status, girls and boys with obesity at age 7 were at greater risk of
Emotional problems at age 11, which in turn, predicted high body mass
Index (BMI) at 14 years of age.
While the study did not investigate the reasons why obesity and
emotional problems develop together during childhood, the researchers
say that a range of factors are likely to be involved.
“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 ”, explains
Dr. Charlotte Hardman from the University of Liverpool, UK, who co-led
the study. “Our findings highlight the importance of early interventions
that target both weight and mental health and minimise negative
outcomes later in childhood. ”
Adolescence is a key developmental period for both obesity and
emotional problems. But they relate to each other over time
unclear, and little research has focused on the onset and co-occurrence
of these disorders through childhood and adolescence.
Lower socioeconomic status is strongly associated with both obesity
and poor mental health, but it is unknown whether the association
between these two health outcomes is merely a function of shared
In this study, researchers used statistical modeling to assess
associations between obesity and emotional problems in 17,215 children
born in the UK between 2000 and 2002, who are taking part in the
Millennium Cohort Study – a nationally representative, UK birth cohort
study of over 19,000 born at the start of the millennium.
Information on children & # 39; s height and weight (BMI) were collected at
ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years, and parents filled in a questionnaire on
their children 's emotional problems such as feelings of low mood and
anxiety. The researchers adjusted for the range of factors known to affect
both obesity and mental health including gender, ethnicity,
socioeconomic status, as well as behavioral problems, as well as parents ’
Rates of obesity and emotional problems increased gradually
throughout childhood and adolescence. Almost 8% (814 / 10,767 children)
with available data) of young people were obese by the age of 14, and
around twice that number were reported to have had feelings of low mood
and anxiety (1369 / 10,123).
By adolescence, around and fifth of those with obesity also had high levels of emotional distress.
The analysis found that obesity and emotional problems tended to
occur together in mid-childhood and adolescence between the 7 and 14
years of age, but not in early childhood (3 to 5 years of age).
On average, girls had higher BMIs and emotional symptoms than boys
from 7 to 14 years of age, but co-occurrence and development of obesity
and emotional problems were similar in both girls and boys.
After taking socioeconomic status into account, the association
between BMI and emotional problems was reduced slightly, suggesting that
socioeconomic disadvantage may explain the link between
Children 's obesity and poor mental health.
“The shared socioeconomic risk in the development of obesity and
poor mental ill-health could be explained by numerous factors. For
instance, socioeconomically deprived areas tend to have access to it
Healthy food and green spaces, which may contribute to increased
Obesity and Emotional Problems, and Compound The Effects of Family-Level
socioeconomic disadvantage ”, says Dr. Praveetha Patalay from University
College London, UK who co-led the research.
“Both rates of obesity and emotional problems in childhood are
increasing, understanding their co-occurrence is an important public
Health concern, as they are associated 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. ”
The authors acknowledge their findings show observational
associations, with conclusions about cause and effect cannot be drawn.
They point to several limitations, including unmeasured confounding,
parent report, and the attribute rate that may have influenced the
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