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Do Overweight Children Have Lower Self-Esteem Than Non-Overweight Children?

The manner in which being overweight affects children depends a great deal on the children’s parents and the parents’ perceptions, and on the culture in which children grow up. Some parents and cultures are more accepting of a wider range of weights than others. The following are some of the key research findings from the past 20 years that relate to these issues:

Many overweight children do have lower self-esteem than non overweight children. However, the degree of lowered self-esteem is within the normal range for non- overweight children. So, overweight children have somewhat lower self-esteem than non-overweight children, but this does not make them seriously depressed or emotionally disturbed.

Overweight children who have the lowest self-esteem also have parents who tease them about their weight problems. Perceived amount of overweight is actually a better predictor of self-esteem than actual body weight. This means that those children and teenagers who view themselves as overweight are more likely to be unhappy about their weight condition. Some of those children may be quite overweight and others may be just a few pounds overweight, but the latter group could think of themselves as having a serious problem.

The degree of relationship between weight and self-esteem is greater for girls than it is for boys. In other words, girls are more dramatically affected by weight and perceived weight problems than are boys.

A recent study of overweight to very obese 5-10 year old African American children (117 participants) showed that overweight was associated with low self-esteem in children who were eight years old and older, not in the younger children.