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Does Weight Matter? The Role of Actual and Perceived Body Weight in the Trajectories of Internalizing Symptoms in Childhood


Existing empirical evidence has painted a clear picture regarding the concurrent role of children’s BMI in their internalizing behaviors; however, less is known about the possible long-term effects of BMI on those behaviors. Thus, one aim of this dissertation was to assess the concurrent and longitudinal effects of children’s BMI on their internalizing behaviors. Moreover, building on the premise that effects of children’s BMI are better understood in the context of parents’ perceptions of weight, this work aimed to assess the role of parental appraisals of weight and its discrepancy from children’s actual weight on the changing trajectory of internalizing behaviors between age 4.5 and 11.

Using 361 families from the Early Growth and Development Study (EGDS), this study sought to assess the concurrent and long-term influences of children’s BMI on their internalizing behaviors, emphasizing the roles of parental appraisal of children’s weight and its discrepancy from children’s actual weight. Results from longitudinal growth curve analyses suggested that children’s BMI was not associated with internalizing behaviors either concurrently or longitudinally. Moreover, parental concerns of child weight were concurrently associated with children’s internalizing behaviors, although no significant long-term effects were observed. Lastly, assessment of parental misperceptions of weight revealed that about a quarter of mothers and fathers in the study underestimated their children’s overweight status, although these discrepancies from children’s actual weight did not have meaningful influences on children’s internalizing behaviors. Results are discussed in terms of research and theoretical implications.

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