Investigating the Correlation Between Obesity and Self Esteem

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Obesity in adolescents is considered to be an epidemic in the United States and a critical health priority. It is said that “nearly one-third of U.S. youths now are overweight or obese, and among those ages 12 to 19, obesity rates have more than tripled” (Lavizzo 2) showing the United States that adolescents have been affected the most by obesity. The “changes in diet associated with intake of foods higher in calories, sugar, and fat; fast-foods; larger portions; and the lack of time to prepare food at home have contributed to overeating and an imbalance between caloric intake and energy expended, resulting in overweight and obesity” (Christian 2011). Being obese comes with health risks as well. As Mourey stated in 2009 “obese adolescents are increasingly being diagnosed with conditions once considered adult illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.” Adolescents aged 12-19 should not be getting diagnosed with illnesses that people get in the later years of their life. They are also known to have a higher lifetime risk for health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, and some forms of cancer. People may blame parents for letting their adolescent children get to the point of obesity, but once their kids hit a certain age, they are aware of what they eat, especially adolescents. Becoming an adolescent means taking on their own responsibility and part of that is making choices by themselves which includes what they choose to put in their body. Being overweight does not only lead to health related issues in the long run for adolescents, but also affects their self esteem issues. Crosnoe stated that obese youths often take feedback from their peers as negative leading to more negative self-concepts meaning they tend to have more negative thoughts about themselves which results in them turning to drugs, drinking or disengaging from social activities. Obese adolescents are also more prone to bullying making that another reason why they think negatively on themselves and adolescents that get bullied by their peers tend to have higher thoughts of suicide. Everyday is a battle for them to get up and go out in public places because they feel people judging them. They feel as if they will never be accepted by society because of their weight. Society also has an effect on the self esteem issues in adolescents because of its standards.

Society created standards of how people are supposed to look like making it harder for obese adolscents to fit in. This purpose of this study is to determine how being obese affects the self esteem of adolescents in the United States.

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Literature Review

Obesity has become a health crisis in the last decade in the United States. Many individuals are suffering from significant weight related health issues that threaten their life expectancy. In 2011, Sarwer and Dilks stated the health care costs associated with treating these conditions, on both the individual and societal level, are staggering and represent a significant threat to our country’s economic well being over the next several decades. The American lifestyle involves a great amount of fast food leaving some adolescents obese. As stated by Christian (2011) changes in diet associated with intake of foods higher in calories, sugar, and fat; fast-foods; larger portions; and the lack of time to prepare food at home have contributed to overeating and an imbalance between caloric intake and energy expended, resulting in overweight and obesity. Adolescents who deviate away from normative body ideals can often feel as if they do not belong in society. It leads them into depression and having low self esteem.

School Contexts and Obesity

Schools are one of the biggest factors in adolescent obesity. In 2015, Muller emphasized the importance of schools as a location that houses distinct adolescent societies that in turn may shape how youth see their weight and decide to engage in weight control. He stated that when more of an adolescent’s schoolmates are overweight, macro-level norms stressing the value thinness are likely to be relaxed, and youth in that school may be less likely to try to lose weight and less likely to perceive their weight as overweight. Peer influence will essentially determine how obese adolescents will react to their own body because adolescence is the stage where the youth are orientated toward peer opinions and values. In comparison with Lavizzo (2009) the stigma of obesity carries psychological and social consequences as well, including an increased risk of depression, as obese adolescents are rejected more frequently by their peers, teased and ostracized because of their weight. Obese adolescents do try to participate in physical activities in school, but ridicule from their peers disencourages them. In the same vein, obese adolescents are more likely to miss school than their normal-weight peers, making it harder for them to keep up academically. This not only affects their college and career prospects, it also has a negative impact on their self esteem.

Self Esteem and Obesity

Melnyk & Small (2008) have a similar focus when it comes to obesity indicating that teens with elevated depressive and anxiety symptoms perceive healthy lifestyles to be more difficult to achieve and have less confidence in their ability to implement healthy lifestyle behaviors. Therefore, interventions that incorporate a strong mental health component may be a solution in enhancing healthy choices and behaviors as well as in decreasing health risk behaviors. The reason for having such low self esteem is due to the ridicule adolescents get from their peers along with society. Society has standards that are put into people’s heads of how they are supposed to look like and if they do not fulfill the standards, they feel as if they do not fit in.

Bamber, Stokes & Stephen (2007) elaborate on how obesity in adolescents may lead to a higher risk of depression later in life, while depression in childhood or adolescence may be a risk factor for adult obesity. Higher body mass index has been shown to influence body images in a negative way in adolescents. They also associated body dissatisfaction with depressive symptoms, concluding that the relationship between obesity and depression may be compounded by negative feelings about body image. Getting adolescents to work on their obesity problem will not only help their mental health, but their physical health as well.

Gender and Obese Adolescents

According to Crosnoe (2007), internalization and externalization of the stigma of obesity will be more pronounced for girls than for boys. Essentially, obesity impacts girls more heavily than it does boys. The media portrays girls as being thin while it gives boys more of a variety of body image role models. Adolescent girls are mainly focused on losing weight or avoiding being overweight in the fear that they will not fit in with the other girls, so when an adolescent girl is overweight, it takes a toll on her. Langford took part in working with a group of obese female teenagers who were at least 50 pounds over their normal weight in order to help them with their obesity. Langford’s small group approach provides peer support for exploring common problems and needs of obese teenagers. The conclusion was that a small group approach is useful in working with obese adolescents. She stated that in order to be successful, you have to focus on the total adolescent, not just her problem with obesity (Langford 2008). This type of approach to working with adolescents, no matter the gender would have the greatest outcome because it is focused on them as people, not how much they weigh. Essentially, it would make them think less about how much they weigh, but more that somebody cares enough to help them overcome one of the biggest problems in their lives. In comparison to Mueller (2015), the study also believes that girls are more heavily impacted because adolescent boys feel less pressure to conform to society's ideals and less likely to internalize those ideals. Regardless of gender when youth are sanctioned for their weight, it has negative impacts on their well being.


The researcher surveyed a total of 43 participants aged 12-23 years old. The objective of this study was to find out if being obese affects the self esteem of adolescents in the United States. 61.90% of participants in this study were females and 38.10% were males. In figure 1, participants were asked if they believe that obesity in adolescents is a big problem in the United States. 88.10% said yes while 11.90% said no concluding that most people see it as an issue. This compares to Lavizzo (2009) when he stated that nearly one third of U.S. adolescents now are overweight or obese meaning most people are aware of it. Figure 2 shows a number of reasons as being the cause of obesity but life-style choices was the one that most participants chose. The percentage for life-style choices was 52.38% which is more than half. Most participants chose life-style choices as the response because choices made by people can affect their diet heavily. If someone eats unhealthy constantly, and doesn’t work out, they will keep gaining weight without realizing it leading them to be obese. The third figure shows participants stating if they know someone who is obese. Out of the 43 participants, 80.49% know someone who is obese. From this the researcher interpreted that being obese is becoming a “common” trend. Figure 4 shows that 87.80% of participants believe low self esteem is associated with obesity. This can be compared to what Bamber, Stokes & Stephen (2007) stated. They stated that obese adolescents are more prone to higher risk of depression later in life. If obese adolescents worked on their obesity problem, it would help their mental as well as physical health. In figure 5, 7.14% of participants believe that gender plays a role in obesity, specifically the female gender, while 92.86% believe that gender does not play a role in obesity. This contradicts what Crosnoe stated in 2007 when he believed that the stigma of obesity is more noticeable for females rather than males. The media sees females as being thin to be perfect, while it gives males more of a variety. The participants do not see gender playing a role in obesity. Figure 6 shows 80.49% of participants that believe obesity can affect the academic performance of students.

Ethical Considerations

Participants were protected by having their names kept confidential. All participants were asked to read and sign a consent form before filling out the questionnaire. All information from the questionnaire was kept confidential and anonymous. Participants were not harmed in any way from participating in the study and were allowed to leave a question blank if they did not feel comfortable answering. Please see attached consent form in the appendix section for further details.


The study will most likely conclude that obesity in adolescents is a growing problem in the United States. Most participants will believe that low self esteem is heavily correlated with obesity. It is also expected that obese adolescents will realize they need to start losing weight if they do not want health risks at an early age. Another conclusion from the study will be that obesity affects an adolescents education not allowing them to fulfill their potential. The stakeholders in this study were the 50 participants, the researcher Natalia Piszcz and the funding buddy Professor Eunice Nkansah. The recommendations are to get a bigger sampling size and devote more time to the study. Another recommendation would be to get more information regarding health risks and obesity.


  1. Bamber, D., Stokes, C., & Stephen, A. (2007). The role of diet in the prevention and management of adolescent depression. Nutrition Bulletin, 32, 90-99.
  2. Christian, B. (2011). Targeting the obesity epidemic in children and adolescents: Research evidence for practice. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 26(5), 503-6.
  3. Crosnoe, R. (2007). Gender, obesity, and education: A magazine of theory and practice. Sociology of Education, 80(3), 241-260.
  4. Darweish, S. (2012). Obesity in children and teenagers. Primary Health Care (through 2013), 22(7), 28-31.
  5. Langford, R. (2008). Teenagers and Obesity. The American Journal of Nursing, 81(3), 556-559.
  6. Lavizzo-Mourey, R. (2009). The adolescent obesity epidemic. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine,45(3), 6-7.
  7. Melnyk BM, & Small L. (2008). The worldwide epidemic of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: calling all clinicians and researchers to intensify efforts in prevention and treatment. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 5(3), 109–112.
  8. Mueller, A. (2015). The role of school contexts in adolescents' weight-loss behaviors and self-perceptions of overweight. Sociological Inquiry, 85(4), 532-555.
  9. Sarwer, D. B., & Dilks, R. J. (2011). Invited Commentary: Childhood and Adolescent Obesity: Psychological and Behavioral Issues in Weight Loss Treatment.
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