While the physical effects of obesity on young people are widely discussed, the psychological aspect of this serious disease has not yet reached sufficient attention and level of analysis. Meanwhile, mental problems associated with obesity can lead to severe complications during the period of adulthood development. Thus, it is crucial to research the psychological consequences of childhood and adolescent obesity to analyze how adults perceive this problem.
The most common mental complication of obesity is the feeling of being stigmatized and depression that develops because of it. The paper will discuss research findings from scholarly articles focused on the problem of the psychological effects of obesity on adulthood development.
Obesity in the USA is one of the major public health issues affecting the lives of people from all age periods. However, it is crucial to analyze the psychological aspects of the disorder in childhood and adolescence periods to be able to make conclusions about its effect on adulthood development. According to Imes and Burke (2014), nearly 35% of US adults suffered from obesity in 2011-2012. While the prevalence of obesity is moderately decreasing in the USA, globally, the number of obese and overweight adults is growing (Imes & Burke, 2014).
These statistics signify that many people not only suffer from physical discomfort but also experience serious psychological distress. As Imes and Burke (2014) remark, obesity-driven mental problems of adults lead to their incapability to meet professional demands. Thus, it is necessary to analyze the psychological effect of childhood and adolescence obesity and investigate what aspects have the greatest impact on people in the transitional period.
Research indicates that childhood obesity is negatively associated with severe psychological comorbidities. Rankin et al. (2016) note that obese children tend to develop such mental problems as behavioral and emotional disorders and depression. Moreover, they have low self-esteem and poorly perceived scores of health-related quality of life. Overweight children are more likely to experience different psychosocial difficulties than their peers with a healthy weight (Rankin et al., 2016).
Such omnipresent obesity-driven negative psychological behaviors as teasing, stigma, and bullying are noted to have dramatic consequences on children’s lives. As a result, those young people who have suffered from their peers’ negative attitudes tend to transfer these problems into adulthood. Rankin et al. (2016) remark that overweight children have lower performance and poorer physical health due to psychological discomfort. However, scholars note that the question is still open as to whether mental disorders are the reason or the result of obesity.
Another research focusing on the cause-and-effect relationship between obesity and psychological problems emphasizes the effect of emotional distress on obesity promotion. The study by Hemingsson (2014) investigates whether childhood obesity is the main factor contributing to mental disturbances in vulnerable children and adolescents. The author notes that childhood obesity, which is promoted by psychological distress, not only has a serious effect on the physical and mental development of individuals but also causes major economic losses due to the decreased productivity of obese adults.
According to Hemingsson (2014), there is a close association between emotional distress and weight gain. In particular, the scholar notes that children from families with disharmonious atmosphere, socioeconomic disadvantage, and bad relationships between family members, tend to develop obesity.
Also, young people who do not receive enough support and encouragement, as well as those with insecurity and unsatisfied emotional needs, are at a higher risk of gaining excessive weight. Thus, children who are not resilient are highly likely to suffer from emotional distress and psychological problems, such as low self-worth and self-esteem, insecurity, powerlessness, anxiety, negative self-belief, and increased sensitivity to stress (Hemingsson, 2014). Gradually, these inner disorders can lead to a psycho-emotional overload followed by weight gain-inducing effects, such as chronic stress, unregulated appetite, or eating to suppress emotions. As a result, a child or adolescent develops obesity which later cannot be coped with even in adulthood.
Researchers pay attention to the correlation between obesity and poor neurocognitive functioning. In their study, Liang, Matheson, Kaye, and Boutelle (2014) note that obesity-driven low neurocognitive reactions in adulthood are developed from similar childhood and adolescence problems.
The scholars have performed a systematic review of articles analyzing such aspects as executive function, self-regulation, cognitive function, effortful control, neurocognitive performance, inhibition, impulsivity, cognitive control, attention, motor, language, memory, delayed gratification, academic achievement, body mass index, obesity, waist-hip ratio, and body fat. Liang et al. (2014) conclude that there exists a negative relationship between obesity and such forms of neurocognitive functioning as attention, visuospatial performance, executive functioning, and motor skills. Such obesity-related behaviors as disinhibited eating decreased physical activity, and increased food intake are linked with executive dysfunction (Liang et al., 2014).
At the same time, physical activity is positively associated with motor skills. Scholars note that further research is needed to establish the directionality of such connections. However, obesity is related to poor neurocognitive functioning.
When investigating the psychological effects of obesity on adulthood development, scholars research the connection between obesity and major depressive disorder (MDD). Marmorstein, Iacono, and Legrand (2014) note that there are prospective connections between MDD and obesity in early adolescence and early adulthood. Individuals having one of the two disorders are reported to have a high risk of developing the other one at some point in their lifetimes (Marmorstein et al., 2014).
There are populations whose risk is much higher than that of the general population. For instance, the connection between obesity and MDD in young women is much higher than that in young men. Marmorstein et al. (2014) remark that the comorbidity of the two conditions can be explained in three possible ways:
- obesity may induce depression,
- depression may induce obesity,
- a third factor may induce both disorders.
Obesity can predispose individuals to depression through poor self-esteem, weight stigma, or functional impairment (Marmorstein et al., 2014). Depression can cause obesity through the occurrence of such symptoms as poor sleep, increased appetite, and side effects of antidepressants.
Environmental factors that can cause both depression and obesity involve poverty and low or no access to healthy food and recreational activities. Marmorstein et al. (2014) conclude that adolescent girls at a higher risk of developing obesity-depression comorbidity than boys. Early adolescent-onset depression is connected with the increased risk of later-onset obesity. Late adolescence obesity is associated with intensified odds of having depression in adulthood.
Along with the investigation of the psychological effects of obesity, scholars analyze the problem of induced obesity and its relation to weight misperception. Sutin and Terracciano (2015) note that adolescence, the period directly preceding adulthood, is a common age for individuals’ incorrect understanding of their weight. This serious mental problem is manifested through one’s false treatment of one’s body as overweight.
As a result, such adolescents start engaging in unhealthy behaviors and dieting practices which create conditions for obesity development (Sutin & Terracciano, 2015). Having analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, scholars conclude that adolescents who falsely consider themselves to be overweight have a higher likelihood of becoming obese than those who perceive their weight correctly. Thus, it is crucial to investigate the causes of weight misperceptions in adolescence since outcomes of such false beliefs can affect individuals’ psychological and physical health in adulthood.
Overall, finding from scholarly papers indicate that childhood and adolescent obesity has a negative psychological effect on individuals both during these periods and in adulthood. Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, and Brennan (2016) note that it is possible to affect adults suffering from obesity by mindfulness-based interventions. Scholars conclude that such an approach can have a significantly positive result both for the physical and psychological health of adults. Still, further research is needed to analyze the exact mechanisms of action.
The detailed analysis of the research question increased my knowledge about this problem. Although I used to know that obesity hurt people’s physical health, I rarely thought of how much harm it could do to one’s mental state. The reviewed articles offered much investigation on the relation between obesity and psychological issues in different life periods. Particularly, I was surprised to find out that girls were more exposed to developing a major depressive disorder than boys.
Furthermore, I realized how much childhood and adolescence problems affected adulthood development. It seems that a person who is obese during early years has very low chances of overcoming that issue without intensive help.
At the same time, I was relieved to find out that researches were constantly working on finding ways to help people cope with their problems. It is a good idea to come up with new interventions and invite as many participants as possible to check their effect. The more investigation of the aspect is performed, the easier it will be for people to start dealing with their psychological issues at an early age. Consequently, coping strategies in childhood and adolescence will decrease the incidence of complications in adulthood.
Ultimately, the problem of the psychological impact of obesity on adulthood development will be solved to a great extent. The research helped me to understand the inevitable connection between different dimensions of health and different age periods. I am now better aware of pitfalls in which an individual can fall without timely help. I will do my best to share these data and promote healthy habits among my peers as well as younger individuals.
The psychological effects of obesity on adulthood development are no less significant than physical ones. However, mental problems associated with excessive weight are not investigated at the same level as physiological complications are.
The present research includes an overview and synthesis of research findings that are focused on children’s and adolescents’ obesity-related psychological and emotional problems. Scholars emphasize the mutual influence OF obesity and depression. Moreover, researchers note that the negative psychological effect of obesity in childhood and adolescence can cause complications in the adult age. Therefore, it is crucial to investigate the mechanisms of obesity-depression comorbidity and other similar comorbidities.
Hemingsson, E. (2014). A new model of the role of psychological and emotional distress in promoting obesity: Conceptual review with implications for treatment and prevention. Obesity Reviews, 15(9), 769-779.
Imes, C. C., & Burke, L. E. (2014). The obesity epidemic: The USA as a cautionary tale for the rest of the world. Current Epidemiology Reports, 1(2), 82-88.
Liang, J., Matheson, B. E., Kaye, W. H., & Boutelle, K. N. (2014). Neurocognitive correlates of obesity and obesity-related behaviors in children and adolescents. International Journal of Obesity, 38(4), 494-506.
Marmorstein, N. R., Iacono, W. G., & Legrand, L. (2014). Obesity and depression in adolescence and beyond: Reciprocal risks. International Journal of Obesity, 38(7), 904-911.
Rankin, J., Matthews, L., Cobley, S., Han, A., Sanders, R., Wiltshire, H. D., & Baker, J. S. (2016). Psychological consequences of childhood obesity: Psychiatric comorbidity and prevention. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 7, 125-146.
Rogers, J. M., Ferrari, M., Mosely, K., Lang, C. P., & Brennan, L. (2016). Mindfulness-based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: A meta-analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes. Obesity Reviews, 18(1), 51-67.
Sutin, A. R., & Terracciano, A. (2015). Body weight misperception in adolescence and incident obesity in young adulthood. Psychological Science, 26(4), 507-511.