Jeanna Bryner, managing editor at LiveScience, interviewed Sarah Gable, a researcher at the University of Missouri, about the emotional consequences of childhood obesity: low self-esteem from being teased or bullied, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These stressful emotions all interfere with not only academic achievement, but every other aspect of life of a child or a teen.
Sadly, nobody really understands what’s going on with this obesity epidemic, although many of us have strong opinions. It’s confusing. Bryner says,
While one paradigm suggests weight leads to teasing, which then leads to psychological issues, another reverses those arrows to suggest depressed kids are less likely to exercise and more likely to gain weight.
What we do know is, a lot of kids are hurting.
Not long ago, Dr. Pretlow’s article “Perspective: Why Do Kids Overeat?” appeared in Clinical Endocrinology News. From studying the responses of thousands of young people, he has noticed that tolerance develops to highly pleasurable foods, and, in this way, these foods act exactly like drugs of abuse. He says,
The way these youth describe their relationship with food comes close to satisfying all of the DSM-IV substance dependence criteria… Morbidly obese kids are likely in addictive tolerance mode and eat more or worse foods to obtain the same coping effect.
For health professionals, Dr. Pretlow offers guidelines in the form of five questions to ask overweight and obese patients. Then he gives us the “prescription” that his patients receive — and any practitioner is warmly welcomed to share these recommendations, which have led to very good results.
The emotional effects of childhood obesity are both short- and long-range. Many of the physical health threats are long-range — most kids don’t think about diabetes and heart disease. Some of the physical drawbacks are short-range, and they are described in Chapter 3 of Overweight: What Kids Say. The various discomforts and awkwardnesses include stretch marks, chafing, saggy skin, the inability to fit into school desks, and so on.
Your average methamphetamine abuser probably didn’t start out thinking, “Here’s the plan. I’ll spend the rest of my life twitching, picking bugs from under my skin, and watching my teeth rot. When I’m 30, I want to look 65.”
Or, imagine a heroin addict saying, “I’m gonna catch a habit that will keep me chronically constipated, put me at risk for HIV/AIDS and prison, and bring misery to anyone who loves me.” The typical junkie probably didn’t formulate his or her future quite this way. This is one of the hallmarks of addiction: The fix is more important than anything.
When a human of behemoth proportions appears in the landscape, we might compare these two propositions, and consider which makes more sense:
1. This person woke up one morning and said: “Hey, I think I’ll put on about 300 pounds so I won’t fit behind a steering wheel or in an airplane seat. In fact, I’ll get so big, both hips will touch the sides of the average shower stall at the same time. Brilliant idea! Let’s git er done!”
2. This person is in the grip of an irresistible compulsion, in other words, an addiction.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Childhood Obesity Takes Psychological Toll, Too,” LiveScience, 02/14/10
Source: “Perspective: Why Do Kids Overeat?,” Clinical Endocrinology News Update, 07/09/10
Image by coxphotography, used under its Creative Commons license.