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Emotional Effects of Childhood Obesity

By J. Lucy Boyd ; Updated July 18, 2017

Childhood obesity is defined as a condition in which a child weighs considerably more than normal for his height, sex and body frame. It is a condition beyond "overweight" and should be treated by a physician. Most treatment plans involve a calorie-reducing diet and increased activity. Other specific treatments may be ordered depending on the medical reason (if any) your child is overweight or any co-occurring medical conditions. Although it is well-known that childhood obesity has many negative physical effects, it is important for parents to recognize the emotional effects as well.

Low Self-Esteem

According to a study published in "JAMA" titled "Health-Related Quality of Life of Severely Obese Children and Adolescents," a child who is obese is at risk of overall lower self-worth when compared with an average child. This low self-esteem can be damaging in many ways. The may cause the child to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug or inhalant abuse. She may also have low self-fulfilling expectations regarding her education and future career. Low self-worth can increase the likelihood she will allow others to abuse her, physically and emotionally.


The Mayo Clinic explains that obese children are at increased risk of depression. Unsuccessful diet attempts may cause the child to feel as though the situation is hopeless. Depression is often the result of bullying as well. In severe cases, depression can lead to a suicide attempt.


Obese children are at risk of anxiety, often because of the stress of taunting. The child learns to dread being at school or participating in activities, such as physical education, in which he seems different from other children. The stress of dealing with a condition that leads to social stigmatization can lead to anxiety, poor school performance and dropping out of school.

Poor Body Image

The obese child often suffers from a poor body image. This may cause her to avoid participating in physical activities or spending her spare time with others. Having a poor body image can also precipitate an eating disorder, such as bulimia.

What to Do

Care for an obese child must be two-fold. First, for physical health, she needs assistance in appropriate weight loss. It is best to let a medical professional recommend a diet for your child, as he can determine the appropriate amount of calories, fat and nutrients needed each day for safe weight loss. This should be accompanied by enjoyable exercise for an hour a day most days of the week. Healthy options include team sports if your child is interested or solo pursuits, such as swimming, basketball and brisk walking that leads to jogging. Your child may enjoy playing tag with a sibling or playing active outdoor games with a dog. Having a fun plan can improve exercise compliance.

It is equally important to safeguard your child's emotional health. Do not hesitate to seek mental health counseling when needed. Find out if your child is being bullied at school, either from your child if he will tell you or from his teachers or guidance counselor if he doesn't want to talk about it. Bullying requires significant action to avoid serious emotional and learning problems for your child. Help your child find ways to build his self-esteem by involvement in activities in which he excels.

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