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Shyness Boosts Weight Gain in Kids

Update Date: Nov 18, 2014 05:22 PM EST

Being shy increases the risk of obesity, according to a new study. Researchers from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health found that children with lower social skills are significantly more likely to become obese.

The latest study involved data from 8,346 children who were followed from ages nine to 11 years. All children were part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99.

Researchers collected information on children's' social competence, height and weight. Social competence was assessed by analyzing children's answers to statements like "I make friends easily," and "I am easy to like."

The latest findings revealed that lower social competence significantly increases the risk of unhealthy weight gain in children. The study showed that children who had low social competence when they were nine years old were more likely to be overweight or obese by age 11. However, obesity was not linked to social incompetence. Researchers noted that children who were obese at age nine did not experience lower social competence at age 11.

"Children with low social competence may engage in unhealthy behavior to avoid social situations in which they expect to receive negative social feedback such as competitive sports; or they may engage in sedentary activities or unhealthy eating to reduce the stress they feel from negative social experiences," researcher Solveig Cunningham, PhD, assistant professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, said in a news release. "This could result in energy imbalance and weight gain if such responses take the form of solitary and sedentary activities or unhealthy comfort eating."

The latest findings are published in The American Journal of Public Health.

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