Obesity Childhood Social Consequences

Widespread discrimination may be one of the many consequences of obesity in children. Anecdotes as well as formal studies suggest that overweight children must contend with multiple negative social factors. Obesity, or societal perceptions of obesity, affect children both at school and in the wider world. Learn about these obesity social issues.

Social Factors, Obesity and Peers

In 1961, the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children performed an experiment that revealed how pervasive obesity social problems can be. Researchers showed children six pictures of a child with different degrees of disability:

  • One had a facial disfigurement
  • One had an amputated hand
  • One used crutches
  • One was a normal weight child with no obvious disabilities
  • One was in a wheelchair
  • One was obese.

The majority of children in the study identified the obese child as the least desirable friend. In 2001, the University of Hawaii at Manoa (2002) replicated the 1961 experiment. Not only did children, once again, list the obese child as the least desirable friend, but they also showed more bias towards the obese child than in Richardson’s original experiment. The children participating in the 2001 study were 10 to 11 years old, indicating that obesity social issues begin early in life.

Bullying and Obesity Social Problems

The results of the 2001 study reflect one of the major childhood obesity social problems: bullying based on weight. Popular perceptions of overweight and obese children include obese children as victims of bullying and — in an apparent contradiction — bullies themselves.

A study published in Pediatrics (2004) examined the frequency of both bullying and bullied behavior amongst Canadian children aged 11 to 16. Both overweight boys and girls reported being bullied — physically and verbally — more than their normal-weight peers. The greater the child’s weight, the more the child was bullied (overweight children were bullied more than normal weight children, but less so than obese children).

The study also revealed that at ages 15 and 16, obese children were actually more likely to perpetuate bullying than their non-obese peers (although bullying of obese children remained high). The authors speculated that obese children of that age may be using bullying as a form of acceptance within peer groups, a coping strategy that causes its own obesity social problems, including the stereotype of the “mean fat kid.”

Obesity Social Issues

The social consequences of obesity in children extend into adulthood. The study of Canadian youth points out that overweight and obese teens are less likely to marry as adults, and have an average household income lower than their normal weight peers. The social consequences of obesity in childhood appear to be far-reaching.


American Obesity Association. (2005). Discrimination. Retrieved April 21, 2010, from http://obesity1.tempdomainname.com/discrimination/educa.shtml.

Janssen, I., Craig, W., Boyce, W.