Negative Peer Perceptions of Obese Children in the Classroom Environment




Objective: It is asserted that the more immediate and observable consequences of pediatric obesity are psychosocial in nature. This study examines the peer relations of clinically referred obese youth compared to demographically comparable nonoverweight peers within the classroom environment.

Methods and Procedures: Peer-, teacher-, and self-reports of behavioral reputation (Revised Class Play (RCP)), and peer reports of social acceptance, nonsocial attributes (attractiveness, athleticism, academic competence), and health interference (school absence, illness, fatigue) were obtained regarding 90 obese youth (BMI > 95th percentile; 8–16 years, 57% girls, 50% African American) and 76 nonoverweight demographically similar comparison classmates.

Results: Relative to comparison peers, obese children were nominated significantly less often as a best friend and rated lower in peer acceptance, although the two groups did not differ in the number of reciprocated friendships. Obese youth were described by peer, teacher, and self-report as more socially withdrawn and by peers as displaying less leadership and greater aggressive-disruptive behavior. Peers also described obese youth as less physically attractive, less athletic, more sick, tired, and absent from school. Being seen as less attractive and less athletic by peers helped to explain differences in obese and nonoverweight youth's levels of peer acceptance.

Discussion: Clinically referred obese youth are characterized by peer relations that differ from those of nonoverweight youth. The peer environment provides a rich context to understand the social consequences of pediatric obesity as well as factors that could be targeted in intervention to promote more positive health and psychosocial outcomes.