Social anxiety, defined as persistent fears of one or more social situations in which the person is exposed to others and expects to be scrutinized, has been reported in as many as one in ten individuals with overweight or obesity.
Now, a paper by Abbas Abdollahi and Mansor Abu Talib, published in Psychology, Health and Medicine, examines the relationship between social anxiety and sedentary behaviour in this population.
The researchers surveyed 207 overweight and obese students (measured heights and weights) using a number of validated instruments to assess social anxiety, sedentariness and body esteem.
As one might expect, social anxiety was associated with lower body esteem and higher sedentary behaviour.
The key mediator in this relationship was body dissatisfaction and poor body esteem.
“…obese individuals with poor body esteem are more likely to report social anxiety, because they are concerned about negative evaluation by others; therefore, obese individuals indicate avoidance behaviour, which, ultimately, leads to social anxiety.”
The implications of these findings are obvious,
“First, when assessing the social anxiety in individuals, it is important to account for the presence of sedentary behaviour in addition to other psychological risk factors. Second, reducing sedentary behaviour can alter the effect of social anxiety factors; this may be a significant factor to incorporate into social anxiety treatment programmes. Reducing social anxiety in individuals is a main part of any clinical intervention. Third, the findings of the current study suggest that health professionals should encourage obese individuals with social anxiety to reassure their value and abilities regardless of their weight or body shape, and assist them to recognize that everybody is unique and that differences between individuals are valuable.”
This will take more than simply telling people with overweight to be more active. It will certainly require targeted and professional help to overcome body dissatisfaction and low self esteem.
Or, even better, we need to do all we can to help people gain more confidence and be accepting about their own bodies in the first place.
Abdollahi A, & Talib MA (2014). Sedentary behaviour and social anxiety in obese individuals: the mediating role of body esteem. Psychology, health & medicine, 1-5 PMID: 24922119