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Studies: Obese children have fewer friends


Overweight children excluded from friendships
Obesity is not only a risk to physical health, it also strains interpersonal relationships. In a recent study, scientists found that overweight children are more often excluded from friendships. At worst, this can lead to serious mental health problems for the children affected.

"In a survey of 504 teenagers in the Netherlands, researchers found that overweight children are often excluded from friendship and even classmates call friends who do not return their sympathy," reports the professional association of pediatricians (BVKJ) of the study results . Fat children and adolescents are often simply not liked by their classmates. The study was published in the specialist magazine "PLOS One".

Effects of body weight on social relationships
In their current study, the research team led by study leader Prof. Kaya de la Haye from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC) investigated the effects of body weight on social relationships in teenagers. The researchers found that overweight children assigned as many classmates to the “friend” category as children with healthy weight. But they received the rating “unsympathetic” 1.7 times more often than their normal weight peers and also distributed the rating “unsympathetic” among their peers 1.2 times more often.

Friendships of the overweight are often not returned
The BVKJ warns that negative social interactions can significantly increase the risk of children becoming lonely and depressed and developing bad eating habits. These combined tendencies would indicate "that overweight children generally have more unrequited friendships and so-called Frenemy relationships (Frenemy - word combination of friend / friend and enemy / enemy; friends who are actually enemies), explains Prof. Kaya de la Haye in a contribution by the specialist magazine "Science".

Overweight people are more often rated as unappealing
For the study, 504 teenagers between the ages of 10 and 12 completed questionnaires in which they were asked to identify their enemies and friends. The subjects came from 28 school classes and an average of 26 students per class took part in the survey. The scientists assigned the children to different weight classes based on their body mass index (BMI), with about 16 percent falling into the “overweight” category. On average, the children named five of their classmates as friends and two as enemies. However, the overweight children named on average only four classmates as friends and they were rated as unappealing by three classmates. The overweight children tend to have fewer friends, and if they have friends, these are often similarly unpopular children who also tend to be overweight, the study leader said.

Risk of social isolation
According to the researchers, the social environment, which is characterized by fewer friendships and more antipathy, can be associated with an increased risk of psychosocial mismatching for overweight adolescents. The result is an increased risk of social isolation, which in turn promotes unhealthy behaviors such as excessive food intake and poor participation in sports and physical activities and can thus lead to further weight gain. A vicious circle that is difficult to break.

Growing number of overweight children
According to the researchers, obesity in adolescence is associated with stigmatization, which can have an extremely negative impact on the social relationships and psychological development of those affected. Against this background, the growing proportion of overweight children should be assessed particularly critically. Globally, the number of overweight children has increased by 31 percent in the past two decades and in 2013, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 42 million children were overweight, the researchers report. (fp)

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