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High level of emotional and learning difficulties in obese children

24 Apr 2017

A new study has highlighted a high level of emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties among obese children, reflecting the need for professionals to consider the complex psychological issues that affect these children and offer appropriate support.

The research, which is published in the latest issue of the Irish Medical Journal (April 2017, Volume 110; Number 4), included a review of 111 children attending an obesity service in Temple Street Children’s Hospital and described some of their characteristics in relation to their emotional health and wellbeing.

The vast majority (95%) of the children were older than five years old. The average age at initial consultation was 10-and-a-half months.

Half of all referrals (or 49.5%) came from consultants based in Temple Street, GPs accounted for 36 per cent with the remaining 14.5 per cent coming from other hospitals, public health agencies and allied health professionals in the community.

At initial screening, 33 per cent of children disclosed emotional difficulties including low mood, deliberate self-harm and low self-esteem, and of these 46 per cent were linked to mental health services prior to commencing the programme.

More than a quarter (26%) of children reported behavioural difficulties, which were often disclosed by the parents on behalf of the child, and 52 per cent of these were already attending mental health services.

Overall 30 per cent of the parents reported their children as having learning difficulties and 15 per cent reported developmental delay at some point requiring some intervention.

A majority (63%) of the children reported being teased about their weight in the past with 12 per cent missing days from school as a result of bullying. Almost half of those teased were made fun of by their peers, although a small percentage (2%) were mocked by strangers.

“This paper highlights the complexity of caring for children with obesity as a result of their emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. Left untreated, the health consequences of obesity are severe, therefore a multi-disciplinary team approach is needed. This must include a psychologist and all members of the team must be mindful of the complex issues these children have.

“Given the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity, all professionals working with children must consider the psychological difficulties these children have and their potential effect on treatment,” the authors concluded.

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