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The psychosocial burden of childhood overweight and obesity: evidence for persisting difficulties in boys and girls

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There is evidence that overweight and obese children tend to remain overweight or obese into adolescence and adulthood. However, little is known about the long-term psychosocial outcomes of childhood overweight and obesity. This study aimed to investigate the course of psychosocial difficulties over a 2-year period for children who were overweight or obese at baseline, and a sample of children who were a healthy weight at baseline. Participants were 212 children aged 8 to 13 years at baseline, who were participating in the Childhood Growth and Development (GAD) Study. Questionnaire and interview measures were used to assess children’s self-esteem, depressive symptoms, body image, eating disorder symptoms, experiences with bullying, family satisfaction and quality of life. Linear mixed models were used to consider longitudinal changes in psychosocial variables. Overweight and obese children reported greater psychosocial distress than healthy weight children, and these differences were more pronounced for girls than boys. Weight and psychosocial impairment showed stability from baseline to 2-year follow-up.

Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that psychosocial difficulties show considerable stability in childhood, for overweight/obese and healthy weight children.

What is Known:

Childhood obesity tracks into adolescence and adulthood.

Physical health problems associated with childhood obesity also persist to adulthood.

What is New:

Overweight and obese children are at risk of ongoing psychosocial distress from childhood into early adolescence.

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Body mass index


Bullying Questionnaire for children


Children’s Body Image Scale


Child Depression Inventory


Child Eating Disorder Examination

GAD Study:

Childhood Growth and Development Study


Paediatric Quality of Life Scale


Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale


Self-Perception Profile for Children


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This research was funded by Healthway, HBF and the Raine Medical Foundation. Lisa Gibson is funded by a Healthway Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Karina Allen is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Research Fellowship. We would like to acknowledge the schools, children and parents that have given their valuable time to participate in the study. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of our colleagues Katie Suriano, Felicity Watt, Debbie Blumberg, Alisha Thompson, Lana Bell and Jacqueline Curran.

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Authors and Affiliations



LYG, KLA, SMB, EB, ED and SRZ conceived and carried out the research. LYG and KLA analysed the data. All authors were involved in writing the paper and had final approval of the submitted and published versions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lisa Y. Gibson.

Ethics declarations

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study protocol was approved by the WA Women’s and Children’s Health Service Ethics Committee.


This research is funded by a WA Health Promotion (Healthway) Project Grant, a WA Health Promotion (Healthway) Research Fellowship, the Health Benefit Fund (HBF) and the Raine Medical Foundation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Communicated by Peter de Winter

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Gibson, L.Y., Allen, K.L., Davis, E. et al. The psychosocial burden of childhood overweight and obesity: evidence for persisting difficulties in boys and girls. Eur J Pediatr 176, 925–933 (2017).

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