Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Obesity Epidemic and Current Perceptions of Somatotypes by Children

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Obesity Epidemic and Current Perceptions of Somatotypes by Children

Article excerpt

In the United States, the condition of obesity in children, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for age and height specific to gender (overweight is a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for age and height specific to gender), has increased with a sharp rise in the last few decades (Flegel, Wel, & Ogden, 2002; Harris, Bargh, & Brownell, 2009; Iobst et al., 2009). Approximately 14-17% of children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese with other estimates running as high as 23% or more in areas of poverty or in minority groups (Mahoney, Lord, & Carryl, 2005; Rich et al., 2008). The Surgeon General has stated that obesity is the most rapidly rising cause of death and disease and the foremost cause of chronic disease and disability in America (Harris et al., 2009). Causes of this drastic increase in obesity include foods with high fat and sugar content and a lack of physical exercise (Institute Of Medicine, 2006; Page & Brewster, 2007). As alarming, obesity affects children and adolescents disproportionately more than adults and obese children are often predisposed to obesity later in life (Biro & Wien, 2010; Dietz, 1998; Freedman, Kettel-Khan, & Dietz, 2001; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2009).

America's expanding collective waistline has prompted widespread concern over the health effects of a fast food diet and sedentary lifestyle on children and adolescents that are almost unarguably negative (Mahoney et al., 2005; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2009). The negative health effects which can be attributed to obesity at some level include the risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, asthma, musculoskeletal problems, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder, and sleep apnea (Freedman, Mei, Srinivasan, Berenson, & Dietz, 2007; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2009; Reilly, 2005; Rossner, 1998; Sutherland, 2008; Taylor et al., 2006; Weihang, Threefoot, Srinivasan, & Berenson, 1995). Additionally, 77% of obese children tend to become obese adults with higher rates of adult cardiovascular disease, lower rates of marriage, and higher rates of morbidity (Freedman et al., 2001; Mahoney et al., 2005)

In addition to health effects, there are psychological sequelae to overweight and obesity in children and adolescents with potentially serious consequences. For example, obese children and adolescents are often negatively stereotyped and characterized as idle, weak-willed, ugly, unintelligent, sickly, less athletic, and low in self-esteem (Crandall, 1995; Nelson, 2006; Rich et al., 2008; Sigelman, 1991; Sigelman, Miller, & Wentworth, 1986; Zeller, 2008). Obese children are also at greater risk for depression (Iobst et al., 2009; Mahoney et al., 2005) and bullying and teasing (Iobst et al., 2009; Irving, 2000). Many of these psychological sequelae are secondary to the lower levels of social acceptance and higher levels of social rejection that can be experienced by overweight children, resulting in social isolation and marginalization (Iobst et al., 2009; Irving, 2000; Rand & Wright, 2000; Zeller, 2008). This process of negative stereotyping due to weight may begin in children as young as 3 years of age (Mahoney et al., 2005; Powlishta, Serbin, Doyle, & White, 1994).

While current research indicates a continuing degree of social rejection of overweight and obese children, it is not clear from the current research whether or not levels of rejection have changed over time with the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity among children. That is, has the sheer number of overweight and obese children made being overweight and obese more acceptable and less stigmatizing with fewer negative attributions? To investigate possible changes in acceptability of being overweight and obese given greater prevalence, two earlier studies were used as baseline indicators of past acceptance levels. …

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