Mother and Child

Childhood Obesity Care and Psychological Health

Childhood obesity is a difficult subject. Many adults are walking around with intense feelings from rejection and derision in childhood because of their body size, shape, and weight. Children can be cruel. Sometimes adults are even crueler. So an obvious question arises. When children and youth need obesity care, what is the effect on psychological health?

Megan Gow and colleagues address this question with a new systematic review and meta-analysis in Pediatric Obesity. In sum, these data tell us that youth feel better about themselves and their body image when they receive good obesity care.

49 Studies with 10,471 Subjects

Gow et al identified a total of 64 studies for their systematic review. Their meta-analysis covered 49 of them, with data from more than ten thousand young research subjects – both children and teens. These were studies of dietary and physical activity programs. Studies of surgery, drugs, and online programs fell outside the scope of this analysis.

With this focus, the researchers found a clear picture. In both the short and medium term, childhood obesity care yields better self-esteem and a healthier body image. These findings are important, as the authors explain:

Moreover, self-esteem and body image, which influence each other, are likely to influence other domains of psychological health, including increasing the risk for the development of depression and eating disorders. This suggests that building self-esteem and body image could prevent further psychological pathology.

Care That Most Youth with Obesity Never Receive

Unfortunately, most kids with obesity never receive this sort of thoughtful, evidence-based obesity care. Because it’s simply not available. Parents may receive cursory advice about their child’s weight. Children get input from their peers and it’s not the least bit helpful. In fact, peers, parents, and other adults can be quite cruel to a child who is living with a body that stores a lot of fat.

The causes might be rooted in physiology. Or it might be a physical response to traumatic events. But it’s not simply a choice that a child or parents make.

Evidence-based care can make a difference for the growing number of kids with obesity. But only if it’s within reach. Right now, healthcare providers mostly turn their heads and pretend that they just don’t see the problem. In large part because the resources don’t exist to deliver needed care.

So it’s easier to delay care until complications develop – like liver disease, cardiovascular disease, or type 2 diabetes. But that’s not the way to nurture a healthier generation of children. We must do better.

Click here for the study and here for further reporting on it.

Mother and Child, detail from a pastel by Mary Cassatt / WikiArt

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February 10, 2020

One Response to “Childhood Obesity Care and Psychological Health”

  1. February 10, 2020 at 11:37 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Dynamics of above post are so obvious to me? Why are we failing our children who need the right match for care if and when it applies? What can we do better? Early-on access, attention, and care can improve a person’s mental and physical life for the rest of their life!