Children with emotional difficulties have a greater risk of becoming obese in adulthood, new research has found.
In the study, published online Sept. 11 in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Center at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, examined data from about 6,500 members of the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study.
Participants in the 1970 study had been assessed when they were 10 years old for emotional problems, self-perceptions and their body-mass index (BMI), a height-to-weight ratio. They reported their BMI again at age 30.
The researchers found that children with a lower self-esteem, those who felt less in control of their lives and those who were often worried were more likely to gain weight over the next two decades.
It was also noted that girls were more affected by these factors than boys, the study authors pointed out in a news release from the journal's publisher.
The findings also suggested that childhood emotional problems may be another factor that can lead to excess weight, according to the researchers.
"While we cannot say that childhood emotional problems cause obesity in later life, we can certainly say they play a role, along with factors such as parental BMI, diet and exercise," study co-author Andrew Ternouth said in the news release.
Early intervention for children suffering from low self-esteem, anxiety or other emotional challenges could help improve their chances of being healthy later in life, the researchers added.
"Given the growing problem with childhood obesity in many western societies, these findings are particularly important," the authors concluded. "They may offer hope in the battle to control the current obesity epidemic."