Stress, Emotions, and Obesity

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As we all know, the winter holidays are prime time for emotional turmoil. Being a fat kid is no fun at any season, and now the relatives who haven’t seen you all year come around and say, “My goodness, Johnny is certainly… growing.”

Meredith Melnick of Time magazine has been examining a new report from the American Psychological Association, called “Stress in America 2010.” From the childhood obesity point of view, the news is not good. In brief, Melnick says,

The report found that children who are overweight or obese feel particularly stressed, more so than their normal-weighted peers. And such stress may have a lasting impact on other lifestyle behaviors that negatively affect overweight kids’ health.

The sad truth about parents and children alike is, if you’re overweight or obese, you’re probably feeling more stress than a person of healthy weight. Overweight and obese kids have more trouble sleeping, more headaches, and more of a general feeling of demotivation. They self-report a tendency to get in fights more often than their slimmer agemates. Or, at any rate, more of a tendency to feel like getting in a fight. Goodbye, myth of the jolly fat person!

Strangely, fat kids are more likely than normal-weight kids to perceive their parents as being stressed out. In regard to their own malaise, tweens and teens follow a stress management program that consists of listening to music, playing video games, or watching television. It will be noted that, except for maybe a little occasional dancing to some of that music, these activities are sedentary.

Questions were asked about “disordered eating,” which in this context covers disorders ranging from not eating enough to eating far too much. Now, here comes an important statistic. Melnick says,

Further, 48% of overweight teens and tweens reported disordered eating (either too much or too little) when stressed out, compared with only 16% of children at a healthy weight.

So, what is needed is better stress management tools for kids, and preferably methods that involve activity rather than sitting. Sure, there are studies indicating that exercise doesn’t really help kids lose weight. But Dr. Colin Higgs can name you at least 14 other benefits that exercise bestows, and they are all benefits that reduce stress.

Here is something else for teenagers to worry about. Everybody wants to be in love, right? We are brought up with the idea that being in a relationship is the most desirable human state. But now science tells us that “Entry into romantic partnership is associated with obesity.” That is the name of the study done by Natalie S. The and Penny Gordon-Larsen, both of the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health, and published in the Obesity journal.

Sharon Kirkey tells us what these curious scientists have discovered after scrutinizing the lives and weight histories of nearly 7,000 adolescents. They grow up, some get married, and the ones who get married put on weight worse than their single friends. The researchers…

[…] found that those who married were more than twice as likely to become obese than those who just kept dating.

Even cohabitation causes an increase of fleshy abundance. Within a year after moving in together, both sexes begin to pile on the pounds. The process is a little slower for men, but for both boyfriends and girlfriends, sharing a living space seems to trigger a relaxation of fitness standards.

And of course, there are all kinds of emotional tangles. Nothing can make a spouse all bristly and suspicious like an effort to lose weight. Then it’s, “Who are you trying to look hot for?” Still, overall, married folks are healthier, even if chubbier.

Holidays are always rough for people struggling with obesity issues. Remember to be kind to yourself and your loved ones, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Stress in America: Overweight Children Are Affected More,” Time, 11/09/10
Source: “Big love: study links romantic partnership with obesity,” Canwest News Service, 11/10
Image by yummyporky (Vera Yu and David Li), used under its Creative Commons license.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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