When observing the typical American youngster's eating habits, it is difficult to believe the statement that our society is obsessed with being thin. Children and teenagers commonly chow down on French fries at fast-food restaurants, or munch on potato chips, ice cream and cookies while watching TV.
It is no secret that American children are becoming obese. Since 1960, the incidence of childhood obesity has increased by 50% and about one in five American youngsters weigh more than he/she ought to.
While the health risks from obesity are quite well-known, the psychological effects of childhood obesity can be equally as devastating. Overweight youngsters are often teased - by both their peers and adults. They are frequently considered to be less desirable to have as friends. Jokes poking fun at overweight people are common in our society. While growing up, obese children are forced to endure psychological barbs and social discrimination. As a result, they often suffer with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, and typically are looked at as the source of their own problem.
Many social situations are potentially embarrassing for the child with excess weight. Appearing in gym classes or public swimming pools where they have to wear more revealing clothing becomes a difficult time. Those who play competitive sports often suffer the humiliation of being the last ones chosen for teams.
Studies have revealed that obese children typically perform more poorly in school than their normal weight peers, and often have lower grade point averages. As they mature into young adults, they have more difficulty gaining acceptance into college and finding jobs and future promotions. It is certainly no wonder that over time these childhood experiences lead to low self-esteem and poor self-confidence. This can be the beginning of an unfortunate cycle of social isolation, emotional withdrawal, depression, inactivity, more overeating, and even further weight gain.
The first step in helping an overweight child, who may be experiencing low self-esteem, is to be able to identify the warning signs. They include:
· The child seems to be sad, lonely, anxious, or angry
· The child has very few friends
· The child seems to be obsessed with eating or with food
· Normal sleep patterns are disrupted
· A general lack of interest in activities the child usually enjoys
· Reluctance to participate in social activities, or even to go to school
· Worsening school grades and increased absenteeism
As parents, we should responsibly protect our children from the physical and psychological harm caused by being overweight. This begins by establishing healthy eating and exercise patterns.