NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Overweight children, particularly girls, are more likely than other youngsters to feel lonely, anxious and depressed, researchers said on Monday.
In a study of more than 8,000 children they found that the negative social consequences of being overweight or obese can be felt as early as kindergarten.
"We found that both boys and girls who were overweight from kindergarten through third grade displayed more depression, anxiety, loneliness than kids who were never overweight, and those negative feelings worsened over time," Sara Gable, an associate professor at the University of Missouri, said in a statement.
Gable and her team studied the social and behavioral development of the children, as well as the age when they became overweight and the length of time they were above normal weight
The negative impact of being overweight was felt most acutely in young girls, who were viewed less favorably than others because of their weight..
"Teachers reported that these girls had less positive social relations and displayed less self-control and more acting out than never-overweight girls," Gabel explained.
Unhealthy lifestyles including high-calorie diets, poor exercise and hours spent in front of the television and computer screen have contributed to the surge in the number of children who are overweight and obese in the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 13.9 percent of children aged 2 to 5 are overweight, 18.8 percent of those aged 6 to 11 are and more than 17 percent of those 12 to 19.
Nearly 26 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese. In three states, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, the rate has hit 30 percent.
Gable and her team, who reported their findings in the journal Applied Developmental Science, called for more research to develop programs to help children deal with the social aspects of being overweight.
"Most appearance-based social pressure likely originates in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, intervention and prevention efforts should be designed for everyone. All kids should learn what constitutes a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle," she said.