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Does Childhood Obesity Affect Self-Esteem?

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Malka Leibowitz

Psychology of Learning

Prof. Davis

Spring 2007

Does childhood obesity affect self-esteem?

Observation: Although childhood obesity may have detrimental consequences for childhood self-esteem, the prevalence and magnitude of this problem is controversial (Strauss 2000). In addition, the social and emotional effects of decreased self-esteem in obese children are unknown (Strauss 2000). Several investigators have suggested that psychosocial functioning may be related to the development and maintenance of obesity (Harris 1983; Harris & Smith 1983; Slochower 1983). Overweight youth are believed to be at a high risk for developing low self-esteem (Israel & Ivanova 2002). Over the past two decades there has been a marked increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children worldwide (Janssen, Craig, Boyce, Pickett 2004).

Over the past few years our societal values have been revolved around being 'thin'. Displayed on television, in magazines, and on billboards are the ultra thin models, including child models. Those who do not fit into the 'thin' criteria may feel a decrease in self-esteem as a result of not feeling a sense of belonging in the societal 'norm'. Childhood obesity has been found to be associated with numerous negative social and psychological ramifications (Janssen, Craig, Boyce, Pickett 2004). Children who are overweight or obese find themselves being a target of bullying, tormenting and teasing. Today, a concern of health professionals is to normalize the social and emotional functioning of obese children. There is limited evidence that suggests that overweight girls report lower general self-esteem than boys (Mendelson & White, 1985). According to the Body Mass Index (BMI) a child who is 20% over the average weight for their age is overweight and a child who is 40% over the average weight for their age is clinically obese.

The present study will examine the general, cognitive, social and physical self-esteem in obese children. The study will be conducted within 4 existing summer camps for boys and girls ages 8-14. All participants will have to meet the BMI criteria. Self-esteem has a tendency to fluctuate (Waschull & Kernis, 1996), therefore subjects will be evaluated eight times over the course of the study in order to evaluate and compare the weight and self esteem fluctations and differences firom the different settings. The first group will be a camp designed for overweight children. There, children will be taught how to change their eating habits and how to feel good about themselves. In addition, there will be nutritional counselors who will advise and acknowlwdge the topics of eating disorders. There will be two different summer camps which are designed for normal weight children; for our purposes "group B" and "group C". Group B will be a regular summer camp program designed for normal weight children, however paticipating obese subjects will attend. In this camp, there will be self-esteem workshops which will be offered to the whole camp including the participants of the study. Group C will be a camp designed for the normal weight children but will not have any workshops on self esteem. This study will examine the self-esteem fluctuation among

all participants throughout the 6 weeks of camp. Additionally, the research team will also study them two months before and two months after the summer in order to see them in their usual and regular environments. The study it is predicted to show that obese children in general will have a low self-esteem and that the more overweight a child is, the lower their self-esteem will be. It is also predicted that children in the weight loss camp will leave with a higher self-esteem than when they came in, independently of the "self-esteem training".


Subjects: Participants will include ninety overweight Caucasian children and thirty normal weight Caucasian children. Thirty obese subjects will be enrolled in a weight loss camp and thirty obese subjects will be enrolled in a regular camp with self-esteem workshops. The control group will be matched by age and gender. It will consist of thirty obese subjects and thirty average weights subjects will be in a regular camp without any workshops. Half of the subjects will be male and half female between the ages of 8-14. Subjects will be recruited through letters to pediatricians and school nurses. The overweight subjects will be required to be at least 20% overweight (calculated as 100 x [actual weight-normal weight]/ normal weight is defined as the average weight for age, gender and height). The children and guardians will not know the purpose of the study. The camps, guardians and teachers will be rewarded with money for their compliance.

Apparatus: The Perceived Competence Scale for Children will be used. The PCSC

(Harter, 1982) is a standardized self-report measure that assesses general and

dimensional (cognitive, social, and physical) self-esteem in children and adolescents.

The general subscale evaluates perceptions of global self-worth, the social subscale

assesses appraisals of interpersonal competencies with peers, the cognitive subscale

evaluates views of academic abilities, and the physical subscale assesses perceptions of

athletic skills. Responses on each subscale are scored from 1-4, with higher scores reflecting higher levels of self-esteem. The PCSC has been reported to have good psychometric properties (Harter, 1982). This standardized test is specifically made for children ages 8-14. The Research Team's own questionnaire will be used. The questions will address each child's social life at home and in camp. A teacher's report will be used to assess each child's popularity, scholastic abilities and social skills in school (see appendix). A personal profile on each child will be required. It will obtain factual information on the child such as gender, age, religion, placement in family and parental status (see appendix). A consent form, measuring tape and a hidden scale will be used.

Procedure: Thirty overweight subjects will be enrolled in a weight loss camp. Another thirty overweight children will be enrolled in a regular camp that will have a once a week workshop that is aiming to enhance the children's self-esteem. These workshops will be identical to the workshops that are



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