Self-esteem, victimisation and perception of peer relationships in obese children and adolescents
Obesity in childhood has been associated with psychosocial problems including low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. Obese children and adolescents are vulnerable to overweight-related victimisation. This too has psychological consequences. This study examined the prevalence of overweight-related victimisation in obese children and adolescents who attended a residential activity-based weight loss camp. The association between obesity and overweight-related teasing to self-esteem, body dissatisfaction and social relationships were considered. In addition, the impact of the camp on these psychological variables was investigated. Height, weight, self-esteem, victimisation, body dissatisfaction and social relationships were assessed for 109 participants at the start and end of camp. Data were also collected from 68 non-obese comparison children. Obese campers were significantly lower in the self-concept domains of social acceptance, physical appearance, athletic ability and global self-esteem. They showed greater body dissatisfaction. Social relationships were poorer for obese males than non-obese males, and the obese children and adolescents percieved themselves to be less popular than non-obese rated themselves. 40% of obese girls and 50% of obese boys reported overweight-related victimisation, compared with 9% of non-obese males and 4% of non-obese females. Overweight-related victimisation was associated with lower ratings of social acceptance, athletic competence and global self-esteem. It was not associated with increased body dissatisfaction. Camp attendance was associated with weight loss, improvements in global selfworth, physical appearance and athletic self-competence, and decreases in body dissatisfaction. Improvements were also seen in perception of their popularity. The results demonstrate the high prevalence and negative impact of over-weight related victimisation in obese children. Difficulties in social relationships of obese children and adolescents are highlighted. Psychological benefits of the weight-loss camp were demonstrated. Further research is required to investigate vulnerability and protective factors for overweight-related teasing.