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The Impact of Bodyweight on Life Satisfaction among School-Aged Children: Are the Mechanisms Gender-Based?

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Abstract

Childhood obesity is not only worrisome for its effects on children’s health but also for its effects on general well-being. This article analyzes the impact of bodyweight on life satisfaction and three potential mechanisms that may explain this relationship among school-aged children. In addition to the traditional ordinary least squares method, we also use an instrumental variable approach to deal with the potential endogeneity of bodyweight. We use mother’s weight as plausible exogenous variation for children’s weight. Using a Chilean sample of boys (n = 2,262) and girls (n = 2,256) aged 9 to 12, we provide suggestive evidence that body mass index, weight and obesity are causality and negatively related to children’s life satisfaction. Our findings also suggest that body-image satisfaction, school bullying victimization, and physical health explain about 50 and 29 percent of the pathway between bodyweight and life satisfaction for girl and boys, respectively. Although, our results do not support gender differences in the bodyweight-life satisfaction association, we do find sizable gender differences in the mechanisms explaining this relationship. Finally, this study outlines some possible policy implications and potential avenues that future research should address.

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Notes

  1. Jansen et al. (2008) argue that one explanation for the fact that an association between bodyweight and mental well-being is not always found may lie in the mediating effect of bodyweight perception. Accordingly, children and adolescent tend to have a body ideal based on their peers. Since a higher proportion of children and adolescents are now overweight, being overweight may have become normal, and feeling of being too fat and the accompanying detrimental effect on mental well-being at present may have been shifted to higher bodyweight than before.

  2. As noted by one of the reviewers, our measure of bullying victimization does not tell us whether children are bullied because they are heavier. Thus, this variable may not be fully capturing the pathway from obesity to LS, and hence caution is suggested. However, as shown in Table 2, it is highly correlated with bodyweight, especially among girls.

  3. The results for weight are presented in Figure 5 Appendix B.

  4. It is worth emphasizing that mothers’ weight raises the bodyweight of children who would otherwise have lower bodyweight. If these children have higher marginal impact of bodyweight on self-esteem, then the IV estimator may overestimate the average marginal effect of bodyweight in the population. Therefore, caution is suggested when extrapolating our estimates.

  5. As suggested by an anonymous reviewer, our results may be driven by non-linearities in the relationship between LS and bodyweight. To address this concern, we have also estimated an IV model using as an additional variable the squared of z-BMI. As instrument for this additional endogenous variable, we used the mother’ lagged BMI squared. The results (available upon request) show that, although the IV estimates are estimated with less precision, the magnitudes are rather constant across different values of z-BMI. Thus, we found little evidence that the relationship, at least in our sample, is non-linear.

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Correspondence to Mauricio Sarrias.

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The raw data is publicly available (http://observatorio.ministeriodesarrollosocial.gob.cl/elpi-tercera-ronda) and follows the subject confidentiality and statistical protection guidelines established in Chilean law 17,347 and 19,628.

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Appendices

Appendix A ECLIS Test

The question used by ECLIS test are the following.

Next, you must read a series of questions about yourself at school. In front of each one of them you must select the answer on the Tablet that represents what you think about what is being asked (Answers: never, rarely, almost always, never)

  • My classmates make fun of me, they give me nicknames.

  • I feel alone in my class.

  • I have a good time with my classmates.

  • My classmates are very aggressive.

  • My classmates fight a lot.

  • My classmates like to make other suffer.

  • I have a hard time in the classroom.

  • My classmates like to give nicknames.

Appendix B Additional Tables and Figures

Tables

Table 7 Marginal Effects on Pr (Bad Health = 1)

7,

Table 8 Pooled IV estimates with gender interactions

8

Fig. 5

Fig. 5
figure 5

Kinky least squared estimates for weight: 95% CI. Note: The KLS approach corrects the bias of the OLS estimator analytically assuming the degree of endogeneity \({\rho }_{w, e}\). The asymptotically conservative CIs are obtained as the union of the CIs over the considered grid. The control variables are the same as those Table 2 and height

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Iturra, V., Sarrias, M. The Impact of Bodyweight on Life Satisfaction among School-Aged Children: Are the Mechanisms Gender-Based?. Child Ind Res 16, 135–165 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-022-09973-x

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