Examining childhood obesity through the lens of developmental psychopathology: Framing the issues to guide best practices in research and intervention

Am Psychol. 2020 Feb-Mar;75(2):163-177. doi: 10.1037/amp0000581.


Rates of childhood overweight and obesity among youth in the United States remain historically high and can persist into adulthood, resulting in increased health care expenditures, comorbidities, and reduced quality of life. The purpose of this article is to illustrate how principles drawn from developmental psychopathology (DP) can be applied to enhance current conceptualizations of obesity risk during childhood and beyond. DP is a theoretical perspective that has reshaped the landscape of childhood mental health by using principles of developmental science to model complex processes leading to maladaptation or dysfunction with biological, psychological, and contextual roots. This article focuses on 2 broad interrelated DP tenets: (a) examination of developmental pathways considered both normative and nonnormative as well as processes of individual variation and the nature of developmental change and (b) articulation of complex transactional and transformational processes over time that incorporate both biobehavioral and social-contextual factors embedded in multilevel models. By illustrating how these DP tenets can expand on current childhood obesity knowledge, this article offers a novel perspective that closely aligns central developmental processes with childhood obesity risk and may enrich conceptual models and spark new directions for childhood obesity research, leading ultimately to more effective intervention and prevention efforts necessary to slow or, ideally, reverse, the obesity epidemic. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Developmental Disabilities / complications
  • Developmental Disabilities / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / complications
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States