Is there a relationship between overweight and obesity and mental health problems in 4- to 5-year-old Australian children?


OBJECTIVE: To investigate the relationship between overweight and obesity, and mental health problems in Australian 4- to 5-year-old children. METHODS: The study used data from wave 1 (2004) of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). The participants were 4983 4- to 5-year-old children (2537 boys and 2446 girls) with a mean age of 56.9 months (standard deviation 2.6 months; range 51-67 months). Children were classified as nonoverweight, overweight, and obese on the basis of International Obesity Task Force definitions. Mental health problems were assessed by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) completed by parents and teachers. RESULTS: Although obese 4- to 5-year-old boys had more mental health problems than nonoverweight boys, differences between the groups were small and substantially reduced when analyses controlled for children’s sociodemographic characteristics. Parents reported that overweight/obese girls had more peer problems, whereas teachers reported they had more conduct problems. Children in all weight groups had mean scores within the normal range of scores on all the SDQ subscales. CONCLUSIONS: Differences in rates of mental health problems experienced by young children of different weight status appear relatively small. Higher rates of mental health problems experienced by more obese boys may reflect differences in their sociodemographic characteristics rather than their weight status per se. Policies that reduce the number of young children living in poverty or experiencing other adverse social circumstances have the potential to reduce rates of mental health problems experienced by older children with overweight/obesity.