COVID and eating habits among children: Psychological Impact of Childhood Obesity - Best Private Hospital in Dubai Al Mankhool | IMH Dubai

COVID and eating habits among children: Psychological Impact of Childhood Obesity

“A 9-year-old girl studying in 3rd standard, born out of non-consanguineous marriage, normal birth, with birth weight of 3.5 kilograms, referred by Pediatrician with chief complaints of overeating (body weight of 61.5 kilograms- diagnosed as obese), poor academic performance, incomplete notes, inattention, and anger outbursts with long standing duration. History revealed that she generally remains away from others in class. Medical investigations revealed her high cholesterol level (350mg/dL).  Psychological evaluations revealed her mental health issues as; Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (Inattention type), low self-esteem and history of being bullied at school. She was psychologically intervened since then and within 2 months she reached to 54.5 kilograms”

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. According to World Health Organization (WHO) survey in 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five is estimated to be over 41 million. World Health Organization (WHO) describes obesity as the result of a chronic caloric imbalance, with more calories being consumed than burned each day. Obesity among children is on the rise in the world and has become a major issue for health care providers.

While we are well aware of the many health risks associated with obesity, we may not be well aware of the psychological implications of obesity in children. A child being obese creates bidirectional impact – on how a child views himself or herself and how others see him or her. Many children with weight problems develop low self-esteem, which may in turn give way to emotional and behavioral problems. For a child with weight problems, being unable to be as mobile as that of others can become a big hurdle to overcome and many fail in it. And most of them feel unskilled, unpopular and slow.

Most obese adults were obese as adolescents and most obese adolescents were overweight or obese as children. The consequences of childhood and adolescent obesity not only include health-related physical outcomes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, asthma and fatty liver disease, but also psychological, social, and behavioral consequences, such as risk for problems related to body image, self-esteem, social isolation, discrimination, depression, and reduced quality of life.

There are different factors which contribute to child obesity. Although there are some genetic or hormonal causes of childhood obesity, in most cases overeating and under-exercising results in excess weight.   Environmental factors, psychological factors, lifestyle preferences, and cultural environment play significant roles in the rising prevalence of obesity worldwide. Some children have excessive food as a coping mechanism for dealing with problems or negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or boredom. Family characteristics like the parenting style, parents’ lifestyles and their socioeconomic status also determines child’s food intake pattern. Environmental factors such as demographics, and parents’ work-related demands further influence eating and activity behaviors.

The obese child can become the victim of bullying and this can then lead to loss of his self-esteem and can cause feelings of hopelessness, which in turn paves its way to depression. Obesity can also result in increased anxiety and poor social skills. The child is often seen as disruptive or acting out in class. This can also lead to conditions of externalizing and internalizing disorders in them. Younger children aswell as adolescents who are obese are often more isolated and peripheral to social networks both in school and the community. Therefore it is essential that the health care provider should delve into the psychological well-being of the obese child by assessing his behavioral issues, school performance, and social wellbeing.

Prevention and treatment of childhood obesity depends on child’s early life and must take place at multisystem levels. This could be at individual level, family level, school level and community level. A child can be motivated to develop self control in eating habits, and increase the activity level. Parental involvement in childhood obesity treatment is crucial as parents can profoundly influence the child’s dietary behaviors and levels of physical activity. Family-based treatment (FBT) is the current gold-standard intervention for pediatric obesity. Parents can promote and expose the child to healthy food options, encourage regular physical activity, limit sedentary time, and serve as role models for healthy eating and active lifestyles. At school level, along with the importance of academic performance, each child should be motivated to participate in physical activity and should be educated about the richness of each food they eat. Effective policies and tools to guide healthy eating and active living could be the main targets achievable at the community level.

The growing issue of childhood obesity can be slowed, if one focuses on the causes. There are many components to be considered in childhood obesity, some being more crucial than others. A combined diet and physical activity intervention conducted in the multisystem level can be more effective at preventing or treating obesity. Moreover, if parents enforce a healthier lifestyle at home, many obesity problems could be avoided. What children learn at home about eating healthy, exercising and making the right nutritional choices will eventually spill over into other aspects of their life. Working on the causes will decrease childhood obesity and lead to a healthier society as a whole.

If your child has been suffering from childhood obesity, do not ignore the symptoms. Visit us today for the right guidance and treatment.

Ms. Lakshmi Saranya marath

Clinical Psychologist