High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and sleeping disorders, social awkwardness and negative body image are just some of the health risks overweight and obese children are faced with every day.
But according to the Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education, yet another consequence of childhood obesity has surfaced.
Data collected from 1,200 fourth- through sixth-grade students from 10 Philadelphia schools has shown that overweight and obese children can still be unhappy with his or her body, despite acceptance from within their ethnic group. The information was analyzed by CORE researchers who also took into consideration race, ethnicity, gender and weight.
Different cultures historically have different standards for the “normal” body size and shape.
“Culturally speaking, the ideal body shape is a lean one among Asian children,” said Dr. Gary Foster, director of CORE and president-elect of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. “In African-American and Latino cultures, being lean is not always the ideal.”
However, ethnic background isn’t the only variable that effects how young children view themselves. Sara Solomon, a health promotions coordinator for CORE, works with middle school students promoting healthy choices and behavior.
“The research doesn’t shock me. Teasing is a big factor because middle school students are so influenced by their peers,” Solomon said. “The biggest factor is probably family, though. Children who are raised in an unhealthy family simply don’t move around enough and eat the wrong types of foods.”
Temple students seem to agree.
“Children who are raised in an unhealthy family have more to do with their obesity and self-esteem than being accepted by their ethnic group,” said Elizabeth Devlin, a junior special education major who wants to teach nutrition.
“I also think that the media plays a huge role in how children view themselves,” she said. “It might be OK for a student to be larger in their cultural community, but once they are outside in a diverse environment, self-esteem issues can set in.”
Second-year medical student Nidhi Malhotra said children from different ethnic backgrounds still grow up in the same American culture.
“The opinions of their peers is going to be more influential than what their family thinks,” she said.
But does society put too much pressure on young children to fit a certain mold which might not be entirely acceptable in their ethnic community?
“I guess it is always healthier to be thinner, but often times society has unattainable requirements. No matter how someone looks of feels, because of the American society and its standards, they won’t be happy. Not even young children,” said Drew Tepper, a first-year medical student.
The findings of the study will be presented at NAASO, the Obesity Society’s 2007 Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, La. on Oct. 23.
Abigail Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org