Obesity at an early age can lead to social exclusion and mental disorders. This is indicated in a US study that examined six year-old children. The results were published in “Child Development”.
The study, carried out by researchers from Oklahoma State University (Stillwater), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (Little Rock), the University of North Carolina (Greensboro) and West Virginia University (Morgantown), included 1,164 first graders from 29 rural schools in Oklahoma. In general, children were considered to have a healthy weight if their BMI was between the fifth and 85th percentile and to be overweight if their BMI was above the 85th percentile. They were classified as obese if their BMI was at or above the 95th percentile and severely obese if it was above the 99th percentile.
The researchers revealed that severely obese children were teased more than overweight children. When children were asked with whom they would like to play with most or play with least, obese children were not even mentioned and severely obese children were actively rejected – meaning they were frequently mentioned as those the other children wanted to play with least.
This social rejection was also reflected in the mental state of obese children. They had more depressive symptoms than overweight children or children with a healthy weight. Additionally, obese children and severely obese children were more likely to have physical symptoms, which may be the result of stress and psychological conditions.
The study authors are concerned that being rejected and being depressed may have a negative effect on a child’s weight over time. Furthermore, social rejection may also cause psychological damage in these children, which in turn could result in a higher likelihood of skipping school or even dropping out, the authors warned.