Pediatric obesity treatments improve children's mental health and help increase self-esteem and body satisfaction
The study's findings are encouraging as it has been suggested that ‘dieting’ in children and adolescents may worsen aspects of psychological health, say experts
Treating obesity in children can improve their self-esteem and body image. Interventions -- such as pediatric (children and adolescents) obesity treatment -- leads to improvements in mental and weight-related outcomes, according to researchers from the University of Sydney, in Australia.
The findings are encouraging for healthcare experts as it shows that by targeting dietary and exercise changes as part of their care for a young person with obesity, they are likely to have a positive impact on the child’s psychological health as well as cardiometabolic health, including weight, say experts. Children and adolescents with obesity often suffer from psychological ill-health. It has been suggested that ‘dieting’ in children and adolescents may worsen aspects of psychological health.
“However, our research demonstrates that health professional administered pediatric obesity treatment, targeting dietary and physical activity changes, improves several aspects of psychological health, including self-esteem and body satisfaction,” lead author, Dr. Megan Gow, from the University of Sydney, Australia, tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
The prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents is at unprecedented levels worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016. Further, over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016. Estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in the US, obesity now affects 1 in 5 children and adolescents.
Experts say while there is evidence of rates plateauing, they remain high, placing affected children and adolescents at increased risk of obesity-related complications, including psychosocial, metabolic, and physical disturbances. Unless lifestyle factors are adjusted, by either individual or environmental changes, obesity is likely to persist into adulthood, along with complications, they explain.
“A major concern is the effect of obesity on psychological health. Self-esteem and body image, for example, are lower in children and adolescents with obesity, compared with healthy weight peers. Moreover, self-esteem and body image, which influence each other, are likely to influence other domains of psychological health, including increasing the risk for the development of depression, and eating disorders,” says the study.
To understand the impact of pediatric obesity treatment interventions on self-esteem and body image, the researchers reviewed 64 studies. They analyzed eligible studies, including a dietary and physical activity component with/without a behavioral component, in children and adolescents with overweight/obesity, and assessed self-esteem and/or body image.
The team found that treatment interventions for children and adolescents with obesity lead to improvements across the spectrum of psychological well-being in the short to medium term -- including self-esteem, body image, depression and anxiety, eating disorders and eating disorder risk -- following an intervention.
Improvements in both body image and weight-related outcomes were sustained at follow-up. The researchers, however, say that follow-up data are limited, and
little is known about whether body image, which appears closely linked with changes in weight loss, will reduce long-term if weight regain eventually occurs. The team recommends that future research should explore these issues.
“Reduced self-esteem and poor body image have a role in perpetuating further psychological pathology. It may be that improvements in body image and self-esteem underpin improvements in depression, anxiety, eating disorders and eating disorder risk observed in our other reviews,” says the study published in Pediatric Obesity.
According to Dr Gow, these findings are encouraging not just for healthcare professionals, but also for parents. “Parents can feel confident that by seeking professional assistance for improving their child’s weight status, aspects of psychological health are also likely to improve, which are often reduced in young people with obesity,” she tells MEAWW.