Quality of life (QOL) is mostly gauged by the PedsQL, or Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory, which explores the subjects’ physical, emotional, social, and scholastic challenges and coping strategies. One widely-quoted study found the QOL of obese kids to be on a par with that of juvenile chemotherapy patients, although other researchers have come to different conclusions.
A team of epidemiologists based in London located 25 quality-of-life studies and 17 studies on obesity and self-esteem in kids, looking for mental health disorders and other psychosocial risks. Taken all together, the studies seemed to indicate that physical competence, appearance, and social functioning are all adversely affected by obesity.
The conclusions mentioned emotional and behavioral problems starting very young, especially in boys. This agreed with earlier reports that obese boys were more prone to disruptive conduct, hyperactivity, attention deficit, problems in relationships with peers, and so on.
Another report out of Britain said that actual obesity is less predictive of mental disorders than the self-perception of obesity. It also noted that while some researchers think obesity leads to mental health problems, and others think that mental health problems lead to obesity, a third school of thought holds that there is no relation between the two. Most probably, a vicious-cycle effect can start with a bit of either depression or obesity, and then snowball, picking up additional momentum from each further increment of either condition.
A study of Australian teenagers showed that kids who’ve lost weight over a five-year period attained higher QOL scores, and that obese boys had, in general, a rougher time of it than girls. Then another study suggested that the mental-health impact of obesity is worse for girls.
Britain’s National Obesity Observatory, in “Obesity and Mental Health,” reported that while some researchers had found that overweight children and adolescents suffer from low self-esteem a poor self-image, others did not agree. It does seem, however, that the young are vulnerable to falling into vicious cycles in several areas. Behaviorally, a lack of exercise can lead to mental sluggishness, which exacerbates any eating disorders, and facilitates weight gain, which discourages exercise.
Biologically, if obesity triggers abnormal hormone secretion, it can set off a chain reaction that includes interior chemical changes that affect the brain, and set up a likelihood of further disordered eating and increased obesity. Psychologically, the consequences of living with obesity can foster a feeling of defeated hopelessness, with predictable results to the child’s already unhealthy eating habits.
Socially, the consciousness of being overweight can lead to shyness and fearfulness, which can attract unfavorable attention including bullying. In turn, bullying increases stress and creates even more divisions and boundaries, and a disinclination to interact with others. Everything just gets worse from there.
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