Are Obese Kids Miserable? No.

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Dr. Pretlow has heard from thousands of kids, speaking with the freedom of anonymity, who express unhappiness, and either state or imply that this is a direct result of their obesity. Because of this experience, it is puzzling to run across the occasional Quality of Life study that reports a large quantity of happiness and contentment among obese kids.

Dr. Pretlow says:

In the more than 140,000 bulletin board post on the weigh2rock.com site, the level of human misery (virtually) expressed by the obese young people was staggering. Yet, it might be claimed that those who post such struggles are either faking or only a small percentage of obese youth.

In all fairness, many Weigh2Rock comments affirm that being an obese child or teen is not all that bad. Here are some:

Age 14, female, 5’5, 119 lbs
My life isn’t horrible, but it’s not amazing either 🙂

Age 14, male, 6,0, 230 lbs
i like being fat

Age 13, female, 159 cm, 219 lbs
Im okay with being fat and all my friends are fat too. Were all pretty happy, noone makes fun of us for being fat

Age 13, female, 52, 113 lbs
I am happy with my weight, hieght and who I am

Age 16, female, 6′, 190 lbs
I feel fine about my life no matter what because God makes us this way for a reason. I don’t feel overweight, but sometimes I feel like people look at you funny. I just don’t care anymore.

Age 13, female, 5’4, 123 lbs
my life has its good times and its bad times,but thats life and so im satisfied wid my life cuz i no its normal cuz every1 goes thro it at 1 point.luv

Age 12, female, 5.3, 154 lbs

its okay

Age 15, female, 5’1, 180 lbs
i’m more satisfied with myself than my weight

Age 14, male, 6’1, 243 lbs
i guess my life is ok…my weight doesn’t bug me at least, i dont really like school but who does…im pretty satisfied i guess

A 2012 study looked at 3,227 sets of parents and children in the “Be active, eat right” program. The kids were of all types — underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese, and severely obese. The conclusion could suggest two things — either overweight kids are no more unhappy than others — or perhaps, all are equally miserable.

Parents completed questionnaires regarding child and parental characteristics. Health-related quality of life of the child was measured using the Child Health Questionnaire Parent Form 28. There were no significant differences regarding the psychosocial summary scale scores between the different weight categories.

Dr. Pretlow conducted a poll of overweight kids in the wild (not study subjects) asking about their satisfaction with themselves and their lives. There were 141 replies:

I am very satisfied: 26 votes (18%)
I am satisfied: 34 votes (24%)
I am neutral: 32 votes (23%)
I am dissatisfied: 17 votes (12%)
I am very dissatisfied: 32 votes (23%)

Dr. Pretlow remarked, “Our poll results are also consistent with the quality of life level of the 87 obese youth in our two studies, none of whom seemed particularly unhappy about being obese.” In other words, from the outside, not much motivation toward change is apparent.

Is it possible that obese youth actually are not miserable? Could it be possible that few are even mildly disgruntled? The reason these questions need to be asked and, hopefully, answered, has at least two parts.

There is the simple preference to not have a bunch of unhappy kids moping around the place. People are, of course, marvelously resilient, and every day we see our fellow humans manage to enjoy life under circumstances that astonish more fortunate people. Some obese people of all ages seem to enjoy fulfilling the jolly fat person stereotype. Still, good function and lack of pain are goals worth pursuing for both ourselves and others.

And there is the more complicated drive to understand motivation. If we start with the premise that obesity is not a desirable condition, and learn that there are people who don’t enjoy being in that state, of course we want to know what could kickstart their motivation to change. There are so many ways for obesity to negatively impact a young life, it seems unlikely that anyone could remain emotionally unaffected.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Impaired parent-reported health-related quality of life of underweight and obese children at elementary school entry,” Springer.com, June 2012
Photo credit: Janine (nina.jsc) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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