Self-esteem and obesity in children and adolescents: a literature review

Obes Res. 1995 Sep;3(5):479-90. doi: 10.1002/j.1550-8528.1995.tb00179.x.


The relationship between self-esteem and obesity has not received a great deal of empirical evaluation using strong research methodologies. Thus, it is not clear whether self-esteem is consistently related to obesity, whether the relationship is global or specific to physical appearance, whether the relationship differs by demographic variables such as age, gender or race/ethnicity, or whether self-esteem moderates weight changes during weight loss treatment programs. This review examines these questions using empirical evidence from 35 studies on the relationship between self-esteem and obesity in children and adolescents. Thirteen of 25 cross sectional studies clearly showed lower self-esteem in obese adolescents and children. Five of the six cross-sectional studies that included a measure of body esteem found lower body esteem in obese compared to normal weight children and adolescents. Results from two prospective studies examining initial self-esteem and later obesity were inconsistent. Results from six of eight treatment studies showed that weight loss treatment programs appear to improve self-esteem. However, it is unclear whether increases in self-esteem are related to enhanced weight loss. Many studies were methodologically weak primarily due to small and select samples and lack of appropriate comparison groups. Implications for prevention and treatment of childhood obesity are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Concept*
  • Weight Loss