A new study by University of Missouri researchers has found that overweight kids, especially girls, show signs of the negative consequences of being overweight as early as kindergarten.
These negative results may include depression, anxiety and loneliness.
"We found that both boys and girls who were overweight from kindergarten through third grade displayed more depression, anxiety and loneliness than kids who were never overweight, and those negative feelings worsened over time," said Sara Gable, associate professor of human development and family studies in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.
"Overweight is widely considered a stigmatizing condition and overweight individuals are typically blamed for their situation. The experience of being stigmatized often leads to negative feelings, even in children," Gable added.
The researchers used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort to examine the social and behavioral development of 8,000 school-age children from kindergarten entry through third grade.
They evaluated factors that have not been studied previously: age at becoming overweight and length of time being overweight.
"Girls who were consistently overweight, from kindergarten through third grade, and girls who were approaching being overweight were viewed less favourably than girls who were never overweight," said Gable.
"Teachers reported that these girls had less positive social relations and displayed less self-control and more acting out than never-overweight girls," Gable added.
The results indicate that larger than average children, especially girls, experience social and behavioral challenges before they reach the 95th percentile of the Body Mass Index and are classified as being overweight.
Gable said that more research is needed to develop alternative approaches for categorizing children's weight and creating effective intervention programs.
"Most appearance-based social pressure likely originates in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, intervention and prevention efforts should be designed for everyone. All kids should learn what constitutes a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle," Gable said.
The study was published in Applied Developmental Science.