Researchers, from the university of Liverpool, found obesity and mental health had a close link, and this gradually increased throughout childhood.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, revealed that overweight seven-year-olds are at higher risk of suffering from emotional problems by the time they reach the age of 11.
The researchers analysed data on more than 17,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002, including their height and weight (BMI) as well as reports on their emotional problems, provided by their parents, at ages three, five, seven, 11 and 14 years old.
Before the age of seven there didn’t appear to be a clear link between obesity and emotional problems, but after that age, the results highlighted a growing connection.
Although the study didn’t actually look at causes, researchers suggested poverty was likely to increase the risk of both problems.
Researchers believe the findings, due to be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, strengthen the case for early intervention in overweight children.
Commenting on the findings Dr Charlotte Hardman, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Liverpool told BBC: “People think it’s as simple as eating less and exercising more – but it’s much more complex than that.
“Obesity and emotional problems are intertwined.”
Dr Hardman went on to say that this often means children can get trapped in a vicious cycle.
“As both rates of obesity and emotional problems in childhood are increasing, understanding their co-occurrence is an important public health concern, as both are linked with poor health in adulthood,” she said.
The news comes as it was revealed last week that babies and toddlers should not be left to passively watch TV or other screens.
The recommendations are aiming to help tackle child inactivity, which is a leading risk factor for global mortality and health conditions related to obesity.
At the moment children are weighed fairly frequently when they’re babies, with their last developmental check age two.
They’re weighed again when they start primary school at the age of four and once more when they leave at age 11 as part of the National Child Measurement Programme.
But the study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, suggests future body mass index (BMI) can start to be predicted in some children when they are just a few years old.
Earlier this year shocking statistics from Public Health England (PHE) revealed that there’s a real issue with the amount of sugar young kids are consuming: children in the UK are exceeding the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18-year old by the time they are 10.
The PHE’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, based on children’s total sugar consumption from the age of two, found that children are consuming a whopping of 52.2 grammes a day on average.