Health Living: Childhood/Adolescent Obesity and Mental Health 

Cultural Battles, Individual SolutionsBy- Dr. David PrescottIn Maine, as in the United States, about one in four children between the ages of 10-17 are obese or morbidly obese. In medical terms obesity is typically defined as a body mass index greater than 25. (Body mass index is calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by height in meters.) Over the past 20-30 years, obesity rates in both children and adults have risen dramatically. Environmental Factors Contributing to Obesity: Experts in obesity and public health note that many of the factors that have contributed to the rise in obesity in both children and adults have to do with large scale shifts in our society and even in the way that our cities and towns are designed. Such factors include: · Increased number of fast food restaurants. · People dine out more frequently than in the past. · Fewer people walk to school or work. · Food and drink choices in many places are predominantly high in sugar and calories. Obesity and Mental Health Problems: While the causes of obesity may be largely rooted in societal and perhaps biological factors, the impact of obesity is felt by individuals. Examining the role of emotions in eating and obesity often helps individuals cope more effectively and improve their overall health. Common mental health problems linked to obesity include: · Depression – people who are obese are more likely to also be depressed. The relationship between obesity and depression is not completely understood, but it appears likely that they tend to develop together, without one clearly causing the other. · Binge Eating Disorder – binge eating disorder is characterized by repeatedly eating large quantities of food. When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be deeply embarrassed about gorging and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can’t resist the urges and continue binge eating· Bulimia – bulimia is characterized by secretive eating binges often followed by purging the body of food, either by vomiting, using laxatives, or exercise. Bulimia is potentially life threatening and should be treated by a mental health professional. Psychological Strategies for Coping with Eating Problems: Whether your child has a diagnosable mental health problem like depression, or simply struggles with being overweight, psychology and mental health strategies are an important part of coping. Here are a few places to begin: · Think about what you eat and why: Most of us eat according to habits and patterns. Developing better eating habits begins by writing down what you eat and why you were eating. It sounds simple, but asking yourself “Why am I eating now?” is a helpful question. · Develop a variety of ways to cope other than eating: If your child tends to eat to cope with stress, boredom, excitement, or sadness, help them think of several things besides eating that they could do to cope. · Don’t obsess over “bad” days: Nobody is perfect at anything. If your child has a ‘bad’ eating day, move on. Try not to obsess over that particular day. · Get support from friends or family: Like all struggles, improving your health and weight is easier if you have people to support you. It is hard to imagine someone having too much support!· See a mental health professional: If your child has significant and ongoing struggles with depression, binge eating, or bulimia, s/he should be seen by a psychologist or other mental health professional for a full evaluation. FOR MORE INFORMATION: American Psychological Association Mind/Body Health: Maine Medical Center WOW Program (Way to Optimal Weight): Academy of Pediatrics: