Although it is generally assumed that obesity has significant psychological as well as physical consequences, much research has failed to find differences in the overall self-esteem, depression or anxiety of obese or overweight children and adolescents compared with their peers.
Consistent with this, using data from the 11 to 16/16+ study, it was found that although obesity in early-mid adolescence was strongly associated with worries about putting on weight and self-reported dieting, it was related to only small differences in low mood and self-esteem, and might actually be protective for behaviour disorders. There was also evidence that gender differences in weight-related concerns change with age between early and mid adolescence. Older boys, even those categorised as overweight, were more comfortable with their weight than those at earlier stages of puberty. In contrast, the proportion of girls worried about putting on weight and translating this into dieting behaviour, some of it needless, increased during this life stage.
The literature in respect of childhood and adolescent obesity is complex. In order to help those embarking upon it, a review of the measurement and definitions of obesity was conducted This covered definitions based on overall fat levels and the significance of fat distribution, descriptions of the various techniques used to measure fat and the measurement of weight in relation to height, particularly via body mass index (BMI). While BMI is a relatively simple measure and a valuable tool, one of its disadvantages is a lack of consensus on which values should be used to define ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’, with the result that the literature contains a confusing multiplicity of child and adolescent obesity rates.
Another review aimed to highlight gender differences or similarities in child and adolescent obesity. It found differences between males and females in exposure and vulnerability to obesogenic environments, the consequences of child and adolescent obesity, and responses to interventions for the condition. This suggests the need for a clearer focus on gender differences among both researchers and policy makers within this field.
A PhD project sub-sampled from the 11 to 16/16+ study in order to explore the experience of those with above average body build in adolescence. It found that not all those who had been overweight or obese as adoelscents recalled significant concerns, and that concerns were not enough to trigger weight-loss behaviours; obese individuals also need to be 'ready' to change.
Sweeting H. Gendered dimensions of obesity in childhood and adolescence. Nutrition Journal 2008;7:1pubmed open access
Sweeting H. Measurement and definitions of obesity in childhood and adolescence: a field guide for the uninitiated. Nutrition Journal 2007;6:32.open access
Sweeting H, Wright C, Minnis H. Psychosocial correlates of obesity, 'slimming down' and 'becoming obese' in adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 2005;37:409.e9 - 409.e17pubmed