OBJECTIVE. There is variation in the psychological distress associated with child obesity. Low self-esteem, when observed, provides very little information about the nature of the distress and no indication of the proportion of obese children affected. This study used a domain approach to self-competence to evaluate self-esteem in a representative sample of Australian children.

PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS. A total of 2813 children (mean age: 11.3 years) took part in the study. They were recruited from 55 schools and were all in the last 2 years of primary school. Participants completed the Self-perception Profile for Children, a measure of body shape perception, and their height and weight were measured.

RESULTS. Obese children had significantly lower perceived athletic competence, physical appearance, and global self-worth than their normal weight peers. Obese girls scored lower in these domains than obese boys and also had reduced perceived social acceptance. Obese children were 2–4 times more likely than their normal weight peers to have low domain competence. In terms of prevalence, 1 of 3 obese boys and 2 of 3 obese girls had low appearance competence, and 10% and 20%, respectively, had low global self-worth. Body dissatisfaction mediated most of the association between BMI and low competence in boys but not in girls.

CONCLUSIONS. Obesity impacts the self-perception of children entering adolescence, especially in girls, but in selected areas of competence. Obese children are at particular risk of low perceived competence in sports, physical appearance, and peer engagement. Not all obese children are affected, although the reasons for their resilience are unclear. Quantifying risk of psychological distress alongside biomedical risk should help in arguing for more resources in child obesity treatment.

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