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Vulnerability to interpretation bias in overweight children

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Obese children are often liable to weight-related teasing, and in earlier studies this childhood teasing has been found to predict body dissatisfaction. Cognitive theory postulates that negative experiences are the source of interpretation biases, implicating that weight-related teasing might make obese children vulnerable to shape- and weight-related interpretation biases. In the present study, it was tested whether young overweight children show interpretation biases related to body weight/shape and self-esteem. A Situation Interpretation Test (SIT) was used to find out whether overweight children (n = 20) interpret neutral and negative ambiguous situations more often in terms of their concerns about body weight/shape and self-esteem than healthy controls (n = 16). The data show that 8- to 12-year-old overweight children indeed show interpretation biases, that is, they were more likely to endorse negative appearance and self-esteem-related interpretations of a neutral or negative event than normal-weight children. Also, the perceived threat value of these events was higher in the overweight group. Interpretation biases like this might increase and maintain body dissatisfaction and psychological distress. It is therefore argued that the vulnerability to the development of an interpretation bias emphasises the need to use cognitive strategies that tackle these biases in the treatment of overweight children.
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Keywords: Interpretation bias; childhood obesity; cognitive theory; information processing; self-esteem

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Psychology, Department of Experimental Psychology, Maastricht University, The Netherlands

Publication date: July 1, 2007

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