Adolescent obesity and psychopathology: The roles of peers and parents
O'Connor, Briannon Colleen
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Obesity is often conceptualized as a risk factor for the development of psychopathology for youth. However, mixed findings in the literature suggest that a complex mechanism may best characterize the association. During early adolescence, the importance of peer relationships may be fundamental to understanding the processes through which obesity does or does not represent increased risk for developing psychopathology. The present study explored whether adverse peer relationships (peer victimization, peer rejection) mediated the relationship between obesity and psychological maladjustment (internalizing symptoms, self-esteem) in a school-recruited sample of early adolescents (N = 236). Additionally, several moderators of the indirect relationship were explored, including having a mutual friend, exhibiting peer-valued characteristics, and having a caregiver with an authoritative parenting style. Using a cross-sectional path analysis design, results suggested that there was no evidence of an indirect effect, indicating that adverse peer relationships did not mediate the association between obesity and psychological maladjustment. In addition, support was not found for the proposed moderators. Similar to previous studies, self-report of body mass index was associated with higher rates of peer-reports of victimization. Several key differences are evident when comparing youth in the current sample to samples used in previous research, which may have implications for the lack of associations found. Implications and future directions are discussed.