MONDAY, Sept. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Obese 8- and 9-year-olds are more likely to suffer socially and emotionally than their normal-weight peers, a new study finds.
In the study, researchers in Australia checked children's BMI, a measure of height and weight, at ages 4 and 5 and then again a few years later. Parents and teachers filled out questionnaires that assessed children's mental health and health-related quality of life.
They found that kids with high BMIs -- meaning they were already either overweight or obese -- at ages 4 and 5 had 15 to 20 percent greater odds of having problems interacting with their peers, as reported by teachers, when they were 8 and 9.
While prior studies have made similar observations about the psychological difficulties faced by obese kids, one question that has vexed researchers is whether obesity leads to social problems, or if it's the other way around -- that emotional and other mental health issues such as depression help spur children to become overweight.
"There have been a number of studies over the past 5 to 10 years looking at whether or not obesity in young children and adolescents is related to emotional, behavioral and mental health problems," noted Dr. Julie Lumeng, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and communicable diseases at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "There's been a lot of discussion about which direction that relationship goes in -- does obesity cause children to be unhappy, or is it that unhappy children are more likely to become obese? Many people think it goes in both ways."
According to Lumeng, the new research suggests that children's obesity may have helped prompt their unhappiness, perhaps because kids are getting teased or socially ostracized.
The study, which was led by Michael Gifford Sawyer of Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, is publish
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