Chicago A study has found a startling level of despair among obese children, with many rating their quality of life as low as that of young cancer patients on chemotherapy.
The research published in today's Journal of the American Medical Assn. offers a sobering glimpse of what life is like for many obese youngsters nationwide. They are teased about their size, have trouble playing sports and suffer physical ailments linked to their weight.
The study was published in an edition of the journal devoted to obesity research. It also comes amid growing concern about the nation's obesity epidemic and recent data suggesting 15 percent of U.S. youngsters are severely overweight or obese.
Obesity researcher Kelly Brownell, who runs a Yale University weight disorders center, said the increasing prevalence of obesity hasn't made it any less stigmatizing.
"It just breaks your heart," Brownell said, relating a story from a Yale patient who recalled being absent from school as a child and learning that the teacher had told the class, "She's probably home eating."
In the study, 106 children ages 5 to 18 were asked to rate their well-being on physical, emotional and social measures.
The dismal scores were far lower than anticipated, said lead author Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of California in San Diego.
"The magnitude is striking," Schwimmer said. "The likelihood of significant quality-of-life impairment was profound for obese children."
Obese youngsters were more likely to miss school than healthy, mostly normal weight kids. Schwimmer said that's probably because they suffered more weight-related physical ailments and endured more teasing at school.