Mental Health Risks for Overweight Teens

Perhaps it’s obvious that teens who are overweight are vulnerable to psychological illnesses. However, the seriousness of those mental health issues can often be understated.


For instance, teens who are overweight often experience a catch-22. Being overweight can cause a teen to feel left out or unaccepted, and if a teen experiences rejection among peers, he or she might respond by eating, or even binge eating, adding to the unhealthy experience of being overweight. One of the large dangers that come with weight gain for teens is depression, anxiety, and emotional strife. Given the pressures of looking good and being accepted by their peers during adolescence, teens can be vulnerable to mental illness if weight gain continues.


One reason why this is an incredibly important teen issue to address is because more and more teens are becoming overweight. In fact the number of teens who are overweight have tripled since 1980 and today one in five teens weighed more than what was healthy for them.


The problem of more teens overweight has to do partly with the popularity of spending time in front of a computer. It’s common to see a decline in physical activity in adolescence, and this is particularly true for girls. Yet, genetics also plays a role in whether teens gain weight during adolescence as well as emotional distress. It’s not uncommon to see teens make poor food choices when they feel angry, lost, confused, or sad. Teens can become more emotional during adolescence and when their feelings are heavy and challenging. Another common cause to weight gain is medication of various types. If teens are on medication for mental or physical illnesses, it might affect their ability to keep weight down.


“Adolescence is a key developmental period for both obesity and depression,” wrote Naomi Marmorstein, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University.  Marmorstein wrote that depression can lead to obesity because of an increased appetite, poor sleep patterns, little exercise, and lethargy. At the same time, obesity can lead to depression because of the stigma of the weight among peers, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility. However, the rates of occurrence for both of these disorders tend to be higher for female teens.


Another expert on the topic is Dr. Gary Goldfield, a psychologist and clinical researcher at the University of Ottawa. He recommends to parents and overweight teens to immediately throw out the scale. The confirmation of being overweight by the scale can add to emotional and psychological strife. Instead, focus on exercising. Exercise, according to his research, is the single biggest factor that can return a teen’s weight to within healthy range. Because there are so many physical concerns that can arise out of having excess weight, those too can dampen a teen’s emotional and psychological well being. Once a teen focuses on the exercise and begins to lose weight the physical, emotional, and psychological benefits begin to compound and grow quickly.


Along with exercise, treatment for teens that are overweight include changes in eating habits. However, treatment depends on the severity of the obesity, the presence of existing health conditions and the vulnerability to developing certain health conditions because of the weight. Once teens begin to feel just the slightest form of weight loss, it can add significantly to their emotional confidence. And this can continue to spur on additional loss. However, for those teens who are emotionally vulnerable, experiencing depression, or tend to be isolated, it’s important that a teen trying to lose weight have significant support throughout the process.


Although overweight teens can feel the emotional and psychological distress of being overweight, particularly when among their peers, it’s possible to find treatment that supports not only their weight loss but also their physical, emotional, and psychological well being.