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A Really Sad Reason We Need to Get Kids' Eating on Lockdown

Photograph by Twenty20

Either we have gotten super lazy or we just don't know when to stop feeding our kids, but obesity is now a global trend that is negatively impacting children in all kinds of ways. According to a recent study, physical health isn't the only thing at risk. More social things are, and it's really, really sad.

Obese kids are also in danger of losing their friends.

We know that children can be cruel, but it’s always difficult when your child is the one being singled out. Overweight children seem to be at the top of this list. How to confirm? A rigorous study, of course. Because kids no longer run around as much making fun of fat kids? Instead, it's running under the surface.

Researchers at the University of Southern California conducted a survey in the Netherlands that consisted of 504 preteens, ages 10 to 12. Participants in 28 classes listed their best friends as well as their enemies.

Children were assigned weight categories based on their body mass index. About 16 percent of the participants were overweight.

Findings showed that overweight children were more likely to be excluded from friendships with other classmates and disliked by their peers. They also observed that children who were overweight seemed to dislike more classmates than their thinner peers.

Kayla de la Haye, lead author and assistant preventive medicine professor at the Keck School of Medicine, said she believes that heightened negative relationships can result in mental, social and physical problems.

"Our finding is alarming because if we continue to have social environments where fat shaming is the norm, these kids will continue to be ostracized. Those adverse interactions increase the risk of loneliness, depression, poor eating habits and illness," de la Haye said.

Although overweight children placed as many kids in their "friend" category as those with a healthy weight, they were 1.7 times more likely to be disliked and 1.2 times more likely to dislike their peers.

"This social environment characterized by fewer friendships and more antipathies is likely to put overweight youth at increased risk for psychosocial maladjustment," the study stated. "The resulting social isolation may also promote unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive food intake and decreased participation in sports and physical activities, which can lead to further weight gain and thus a cycle of poor physical and social outcomes."

The study also suggests that overweight children tend to have fewer friends and be friends with less popular kids who also tend to be overweight.

"We want to reduce the stigma of being overweight," de la Haye said. "We have anti-bullying campaigns based on sexual identity, race and ethnicity. We should do more to integrate obesity in our anti-bullying repertoire."

Comfort food therapy, though part of American culture, is nothing more than a quick fix: a deceptive solution that will ultimately lead to bigger problems. If we introduce healthy eating habits to our kids early on, we are not only protecting them from serious health risks, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, we are giving them a strong foundation to build healthy relationships.

OK, so what if your child is eating healthy and exercising regularly, but cannot seem to lose weight?

If you’ve followed all the rules for establishing a healthy lifestyle and your child is still struggling to keep up, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician about evaluating your child for other medical conditions that can cause obesity, such as Cushing's syndrome, hypothyroidism or side effects from medication.

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