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Mental health: Being overweight increases the risk of emotional problems

Mental health: Being overweight increases the risk of emotional problems


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Study shows close relationship between obesity and mental health

Being overweight has a negative impact on mental health. This connection apparently developed in early childhood. This is indicated by new research results.

Being overweight is a health hazard

More and more people worldwide are overweight and obese. Many children and teenagers are too fat too. Obesity is a risk factor for numerous diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In addition, being overweight promotes mental illness. The connection between mental health and obesity begins to develop in very young children. Researchers from Great Britain have now found this out.

Relationship between obesity and emotional problems

According to new research results, which will be presented at the "European Congress on Obesity" (ECO) in Glasgow, obesity and emotional problems such as feelings of fear and bad mood develop hand in hand at a young age.

The researchers from the University of Liverpool and University College London found in their analysis that overweight girls and boys at the age of seven were at higher risk of emotional problems at the age of 11.

This relationship was not evident in younger children.

On average, girls had higher BMI (body mass index) and emotional symptoms than boys aged 7-14, but the concomitant occurrence and development of obesity and emotional problems were the same in girls and boys.

To arrive at these results, the researchers evaluated data from more than 17,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.

They had information on children's height and weight (BMI) and reports on their emotional problems, which were provided by their parents at the ages of three, five, seven, eleven and 14 years.

The study authors used statistical models to measure the relationship between obesity and emotional problems.

The study results were published in the specialist magazine "JAMA Psychiatry".

A number of factors could play a role

The study did not investigate why obesity and emotional problems develop together in childhood. But the researchers believe that a number of factors are likely to play a role.

"Children with a higher BMI can experience weight-related discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can contribute to increased depressive symptoms over time," says study leader Dr. Charlotte Hardman of the University of Liverpool, according to a message published in the journal "EurekAlert!"

In adults, this had already been shown in the past. And "Depression can lead to obesity due to the emotional eating of foods with high calories, poor sleep and lethargy," said the expert.

The researchers also found evidence that socio-economic disadvantage can partially explain the connection between childhood obesity and poor mental health.

"The common socio-economic risk of developing obesity and poor mental illness could be explained by numerous factors," said co-study leader Dr. Praveetha Patalay from University College London.

"For example, socioeconomically disadvantaged areas tend to have poorer access to healthy food and green spaces, which can lead to an increase in obesity and emotional problems, and can increase the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage at family level."

Early interventions

"Our results underline the importance of early interventions that target both weight and mental health and minimize negative results in later childhood," said Dr. Hardman.

"People think that eating less and exercising more is so easy - but it's much more complex," said the author, according to a BBC report. "Obesity and emotional problems are linked," said the scientist.

"From the age of seven, mental health and obesity seem to intertwine and exacerbate each other." Then children would "be in a vicious circle".

And: "As both the obesity rate and emotional problems increase in childhood, understanding how they occur at the same time is an important public health concern, as both are related to poor health in adulthood," said Dr. Hardman.

However, the authors also point out that their results show observational relationships, so that no clear conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

In addition, certain circumstances, such as unmeasured confounding factors or untrue reports from parents, could have influenced the results. (ad)

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