Obesity is excess accumulation of body fat. For children a body mass index greater than 95th percentile for age and gender is considered obese. Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to describe a person’s overall sense of personal value or self-worth. It is derived from a Greek word meaning “reverence for self.” The “self” part of self-esteem refers to the beliefs, attitudes we hold about ourselves, while “esteem” describes the personal worth and value we give ourselves. It is how we feel about the self, how much we value ourselves, the pride we feel in ourselves or our acceptance of ourselves for who and what we are at any given time in our lives. This is important, because how we feel about ourselves can affect how we act.
Self-esteem is an essential human need that is crucial not only for survival but also healthy development. Since it develops from an individual’s beliefs and consciousness of oneself, self-esteem is closely linked with one’s feelings, thoughts, actions and behaviours. The development of self-esteem is a life-long process, starting from very early in life. It can be positively or negatively influenced by different events and circumstances. Consequently, a person can have either a healthy (high) or a low self-esteem. A person with a healthy self-esteem has a happier outlook to life and is more self-confident than the one with low self-esteem.
What factors influence self-esteem?
A number of key factors are believed to have a significant influence on self-esteem. To begin with we all inherit different personality traits from our parents which determine how we interpret or react to events or circumstances. This in turn impacts on our self-esteem. One of the major factors affecting self-esteem is experiences in one’s childhood. Children are significantly influenced from an early age by the care givers.. A child who receives praise and encouragement for their efforts develops a healthy self-esteem and is inspired to keep trying and take on more challenging tasks. If, on the other hand, these people are critical and judgmental this can lead to a child feeling inferior, worthless or rejected.
Other factors that can influence self-esteem are painful events or experiences like divorce, bereavement, serious illness or bullying. Body image, which is how someone feel about his or her own physical appearance, can also enhance or lower one’s self-esteem.
b) What is the association between childhood obesity and low self-esteem?
Childhood obesity is known to be associated with a number of conditions, among them, low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can occur in children who are obese due to the following factors:
Children who are obese can be bullied or become bullies themselves. Consequently they are isolated as it becomes difficult for them to make friends, they get excluded from social activities and feel unwanted.
ii) Poor body image
Body image can be closely linked to self-esteem, especially in early teen-age life. According to a study on childhood obesity and self-esteem by Richard Strauss published in Paediatrics, there was no significant difference in self-esteem scores between 9- and 10-year-olds who were obese or not obese. However by age 13 and 14 significantly lowered self-esteem was noted in some of the study children who were obese compared to their non-obese counterparts (Paediatrics 2000;105;e15). As children enter their teens they are more conscious of how they look and what others think and say about them. The manner in which being overweight or obese affects a child depends a lot on the child’s parents, their perceptions and on the culture in which the child grows up. This is because some parents and cultures accept a wider range of weights than others. A child who is constantly teased about how fat they are soon develops the feeling that he or she is not good enough, is not appreciated or accepted. This teasing can take place at home as well as at school. Children may be subjected to negative comments and hurtful teasing about the way they look from siblings (especially boys), parents, classmates and peers. Such comments can affect one’s body image and self-esteem. External factors, for example media images of skinny girls and bulked-up boys, can also adversely influence a child’s body image and hence self-esteem. Girls have been found to be more dramatically affected by weight and perceived weight problems than boys.