Children who are heavier than their peers at ages four and five are more likely to struggle in their relationships with others several years later, according to an Australian study.
Researchers led by Michael Sawyer, a professor at the University of Adelaide, followed more than 3,300 children for about four years and found that heavy children were 20 % more likely to have social difficulties, and emotional problems. “The quality of peer relationships during this period of time has the potential to have a significant impact on children’s later mental health,” Sawyer wrote in an email to Reuters Health.For the study, published in Pediatrics, researchers surveyed the parents of 3,363 Australian children participating in a large national health study. Questions involved measures of children’s mental and behavioural health, such as emotional problems, hyperactivity and social skills. Children also had their weight and height checked at each age. At ages four and five, 222 boys (13 %) and 264 girls (16%) were determined to be overweight, while 77 boys (4.5 %) and 87 girls (5.2 %) were obese.
The study authors wrote that the stigma of being overweight can translate into social struggles for these children, and they might withdraw themselves from social activities because they fear teasing. Obese children are also more likely to be bullied. Being over-weight in childhood can also impact their relationship with their partners in adulthood, says psychiatrist Dr Avdesh Sharma. “While some people may find such children cute or chubby, others call them couch potato, constantly prodding them to change. This develops a perception that they would be accepted only when they look good,” he says. This can make them reclusive, shy and even mar their relationship with their partners when they grow up. So, the right message to give an over-weight child is to tell that while he/she is accepted, the weight is not acceptable,” he adds.