Obesity Effects Self Image

Obesity side effects may include self-esteem issues, depression and anxiety. Popular notions of body image can affect the obese, in terms of personal self-esteem as well as other people’s reactions to them. The relationship between self-esteem, depression and obesity is complex. While the risk of low self-esteem appears to be higher among obese people, not all overweight people have self-esteem or self-image issues.

Obesity, Self-Image and Popular Culture

Obesity statistics indicate steadily rising rates of obesity in the U.S. since 1980, but attitudes towards body image and weight have remained constant. Popular culture still holds thinness as the physical ideal, especially for women. Fitness, or at least the appearance of fitness, is valued in both men and women.

At the same time, however, attitudes towards obesity have not changed. Popular stereotypes of the obese condemn them as lazy, weak-willed and stupid. While as inaccurate as any other stereotypes, these slurs against the obese remain commonplace, despite the increase in nationwide obesity.

Obesity stereotypes can significantly affect the self-esteem of obese individuals, who often internalize these stereotypes, and dislike both themselves and other people who are similarly obese.

Obesity Self-Esteem Issues

Obesity side effects differ from person to person, as do obesity self-esteem issues. Some people’s self-esteem is intimately tied to body weight, while others experience no self-esteem issues, despite being obese.

Interestingly, some evidence suggests that obesity self-esteem has little to do with actual body weight, and more to do with obesity self-image. Self-perceived weight affects self-esteem more than actual weight. In other words, people who perceived themselves as overweight or obese had lower self-esteem than those who did not consider themselves overweight. This suggests that problems with obesity self-image may be due to general low self-esteem, as opposed to actual weight.

This theory is supported by research from King’s College London in the United Kingdom (2009). Researchers tracked the self-esteem of 6,500 participants in the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study revealed that children with low self-esteem at age 10 had a greater risk of being overweight or obese by age 30, women especially. While obesity self-image can cause low self-esteem, this study suggests that low self-esteem can cause weight gain.

Obesity and Depression

Obesity and depression often occur together. However, like the relationship between obesity and self-esteem, determining which condition causes the other is often impossible. Obesity can negatively affect quality of life, resulting in depression. Conversely, depression can disrupt appetite and leave people fatigued and with little motivation to be active, conditions that increase the risk of obesity.

The link between depression and obesity, such as the relationship between obesity, self-esteem and self-image, may not be as simple as one condition causing the other. Rather, a complex mix of social and biological factors may increase a person’s risk of both obesity and depression.


BBC News. (2009). Low self-esteem leads to obesity. Retrieved June 4, 2010, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8248768.stm.

Crocker, J.