How is Childhood Obesity a Social Problem?

For the past 35 years, obesity has been on the rise, affecting the healthcare system, families, and communities. It is a major health issue, complex and multifactorial. It shapes the way an individual interacts with others and impacts his/her social and physical environment. Obesity may impact the social, educational and occupational choices of an individual.

Obesity is closely linked with numerous health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea, gallstones, kidney stones, infertility, and as many as 11 types of cancer.  In addition, the social effects of obesity, including discrimination, lower wages, lower quality of life, and a susceptibility to depression can be as debilitating as the physical effects. Weight bias is an issue in education, healthcare, and interpersonal relationships. There are numerous ways in which obesity becomes a social problem, all of which can be rectified with a little awareness.

1. Discrimination

Children with obesity often face discrimination, especially due to the stereotypes people have of them. Many times, children with obesity are thought of as lazy, less competent, lacking self-discipline, sloppy, non-compliant, and slow. What is worse, these stereotypes are rarely challenged. Obese students tend to be discriminated against in school, especially during social activities. Over time, they find school difficult or depressing and tend to drop out or opt for homeschooling.

Obesity is the fourth most widespread form of discrimination in the United States, in a list where sex discrimination is first, followed by age discrimination, then race discrimination. There are numerous negative effects of weight discrimination, i.e. depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, low self-acceptance, body image dissatisfaction, poorer life quality, and poorer life satisfaction.

Contrary to the belief that weight discrimination encourages weight loss, it has been proven that people who experience weight discrimination are more likely to indulge in behaviors that promote the onset or progression of obesity. Such behaviors include refusal to diet, eating disorders, and avoiding physical activity. Moreover, the stress caused by weight discrimination affects the overall wellness of people living with obesity.

2. Lower Quality of Life

Children living with obesity have reported lower satisfaction with their quality of life. Although healthcare professionals recommend lifestyle changes for obese individuals, life satisfaction is determined by the mental status of children living with obesity. A change in diet and physical activity is great for weight loss, but life satisfaction comes with self-acceptance.

Children living with obesity require losing weight, improving mental health and physical fitness, and reducing obesity-related medical problems to lead a fulfilling life. Self-management of fitness and eating habits is independently associated with life satisfaction and therefore a better quality of life. It can be hard for someone who is obese to self-manage their lifestyle, but there are options for them, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

3. Lower Quality of Education 

National Health Education Standards (NHES) written by the Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards from the CDC were initially created to establish, promote, and support health-enhancing behaviors in all grade levels. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also recommended Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth. Schools, Pre-Schools and childcare providers can serve as  part of a national strategy to increase physical activity among children.

However, the stereotypes associated with overweight children are evident in schools and this can be hard on kids. Often, children who are overweight are made fun of and called names, which eventually affects their mental health. Prejudice, social rejection, and bullying impair the quality of education for obese children.


Living with obesity is tough, and discrimination  makes it even tougher. Help is available, but help does not come in the form of discrimination or bullying. It comes from a place of support  and understanding. When obese children receive the support they need, are allowed to participate in their own weight loss and physical fitness decisions, and are treated with fairness and kindness-their quality of life and life satisfaction will improve.  

Evelyn Murtis Bio