Sussex Performance Centre

Poor Self-Esteem & Body Image Increase Weight & Poor Mental Health In Children

These are the findings of a study of more than 12,000 children in the UK in which researchers from Imperial College London explored the impacts of psychological and social factors on the relationship between mental health and body mass index (BMI) throughout adolescence.

The link between children having a higher weight and being more likely to have poor mental health outcomes is well established. The proportion of young people with obesity with emotional difficulties, such as depression and anxiety, is around twice that observed for young people with a healthy BMI (19% vs 10%).

But in the latest study, researchers found that increasing children’s satisfaction with their appearance and self-esteem from early adolescence could help to protect against the negative impacts of having higher weight on their mental health.

The links between mental and physical health are well established, and we know that children who are overweight or obese are much more likely to suffer social and emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety

They found that at a population level, children’s happiness with their appearance and their self-esteem had the greatest influence on the relationship between BMI and mental health, further compounding poor mental health into their late teens.

Getting children involved in a structured exercise routine is also crucial for creating a lifelong sustainable approach to fitness. 

Measures to destigmatise weight

According to the authors, there are a range of established interventions to reduce obesity and improve mental health among young people – such as campaigns to promote healthy eating at home and in school, as well as apps and phonelines to encourage children to access mental health support.

However, the promotion of positive body image and self-esteem among young people in education and the media would benefit both physical and mental health in the UK population. For example, limiting children’s access to social media encouraging unrealistic or unhealthy body image, and lessons on positive body image at school.

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