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Ann Epidemiol. 1997 Nov;7(8):550-60.

Self-esteem and adiposity in black and white girls: the NHLBI Growth and Health Study.

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Department of Family Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.



Obesity is assumed to have a negative impact on self-esteem because of the associated social stigmatization in Western society. Studies of the psychological effect of obesity in children are inconclusive and limited, particularly pertaining to minority populations. Most studies have assessed global rather than domain-specific measures of self-esteem and hence, may have lacked specificity to detect impairment of certain aspects of self-esteem most closely associated with obesity. The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of adiposity and other environmental factors on measures of perceived competence and self-adequacy in 2205 black and white girls aged 9-10 years.


Domain-specific measures of self-esteem were studied by race and degree of adiposity, using Harter's "Self-Perception Profile for Children". Three Harter scales deemed more relevant to obesity (social acceptance (SA), physical appearance (PA), and global self-worth (GSW)) were selected for univariate and multivariate linear regression models to examine relationships between self-esteem level and adiposity (measured by the sum of triceps, subscapular, and suprailiac skinfolds (SSF)), race, pubertal maturation, and parental education. The relationship between adiposity and Harter scores was further examined with LOESS curves and also by comparing the mean scores of each quintile of SSF by race, as well as inter-quintile differences within race.


Adiposity in general impacted negatively on the scores of all three selected Harter scales. There was also racial variation in the relationship between the scores and adiposity, with the magnitude of the effect somewhat less in black girls. White girls exhibited a significant inverse relationship between SSF and SA scores while, in striking contrast, there was no variation in scores in black girls across all ranges of adiposity. Although there was a significant inverse relationship between adiposity and PA and GSW in both groups, the slope was steeper in white girls, particularly at higher ranges of SSF. Non-linearity in the relationship between SSF and the scores was seen in SA and PA scales.


The present study demonstrated a significant negative association between adiposity and the level of self-esteem in girls as young as 9 to 10 years. There were also intriguing racial differences in the selected domains of esteem. These results may help better understand cultural differences regarding the psychological impact of obesity and could be used to formulate appropriate strategies for public health policy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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