I was an obese child from the 2nd-grade through the 9th-grade. Despite my obesity, I had a wonderful childhood. It was not a childhood devoid of fat jokes or ridicule, and these digs did sorely hurt when they occurred, but the damage was not long-lasting. My family was very loving; I had many friends, and even a boyfriend.
Sadly, many overweight and obese children miss out on a happy childhood because they are outcasts owing to their weight.
The Emotional Burden of Being an Overweight Teen
Teen years fall somewhere between the “best days of a life” to an unwillingness to repeat the ordeal even for all the cash between the East and West coasts. If you are popular – great! If you are central in the pecking order, good enough. If you have any attribute that targets you for ridicule, well… you are probably unwilling to repeat the teen ordeal. Among the many targets that predatory peers hone in on is being overweight, or worse yet, being obese.
Overweight or obese teens often feel bad about themselves even in the unlikely absence of peer ridicule. When such cruelties are added to the mix, the results can be hurtful and ugly. Read: Social, Economic, and Health Impact of Obesity.
It’s a sad fact that overweight teens endure poor treatment not only by peers but by teachers and parents, as well. The result is that overweight teens become more likely to engage in unhealthy eating habits or develop eating disorders, become bullied, tormented and rejected by their peers, and have low self-esteem. Read: Parental Roles and Childhood Obesity Part 1 and Part 2.
Discrimination against Obese Children
Young children who were shown pictures of overweight children defined the children in the pictures as lazy and stated they would rather not have them as friends. The children further stated that they would rather be friends with a child who has a visible handicap such as a missing limb. Such assessments were made by both normal weight children and children who were themselves overweight. Read: Discrimination Against Obese Employees is Common and Accepted.
Obesity among Children and Teens
Clinical obesity among children and teens has gone from 6% to 15% in the last twenty years and is now the most common chronic illness in pediatrics. Hospital discharges for pediatric and teen obesity-related illnesses has doubled in those same twenty years. Hospital care for these young people has tripled to over 150 million dollars annually. Read: Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy Using Games.
Negative Body Image in the Teen Years
Teenagers frequently compare themselves to peers. If comparisons regarding physical appearances are unsatisfactory to overweight or obese adolescents then the potential for developing a negative body image is high. Read: Feeling Confident When You Are Obese.
Poor body image can result in less time spent with friends that in turn can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.
Although negative body image is a mindset shared by both males and females, females are more subject to negative self-evaluations. The average dieting age for girls in 1970 was 14 but had dropped to 8-years old by 1990. Girls also reported that their fear of becoming fat was greater than their fear of nuclear war, cancer, or losing both parents.