How Confusion Over Your Own Weight May Lead To Obesity

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As a 5’7, 110 lb teenager, there was no doubt that I was slim. Other girls teased me, and often said that they thought I must be starving. Anyway, there was never any doubt in my mind that I fell on the slimmer side of the scale, but I never worried about my weight. 

Many of my friends were different. Maybe they weren’t as slim as me, but they were still well within the healthy weight range for their height; still, many of them were on diets or constantly trying to lose weight. They saw themselves as overweight when actually they just had normal, developing bodies with weight depositing on their hips and thighs as it naturally does during female adolescence. 

Now new research suggests that teenagers who have a false perception of themselves as being overweight are more likely to become obese as adults. 

The authors of the new study, From Florida State University College of Medicine, took data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health concerning the height, weight and self-perception of more than 6,000 adolescents. At the start of the study, the adolescents rated their self-perceived weight from 1 (“very underweight”) to 5 (“overweight”). The participants had an average age of 16 at the start of the study and were about 28 years old when the researchers performed their follow-up.  

The results showed that adolescents who had an inaccurate perception of themselves as being overweight had a 40 percent increase risk of obesity in adulthood compared with peers who had an accurate perception of their weight. (Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 or more.) Although it might seem strange that healthy teens who felt they were overweight actually became overweight, the scientists have several reasons why that might be: these people may be more prone to use diet drugs or to yo-yo diet, which generally leads to weight gain; and as they gained weight, they may not have intervened to stop it, making the perception of overweight a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of the surprising findings of the study was that boys who had a misperception of their weight had an 89 percent increased risk of adult obesity. Study author Angelina Sutin says it’s not clear why the association was so much stronger for boys, and states that, “it may be that girls are more attentive to their weight and may intervene earlier when they experience any weight gain. As such, the self-fulfilling prophecy may be stronger for boys than for girls.”

As for me, I’m still slim even after having a child and rapidly approaching the big 3-0. But I still eat healthily and exercise, so my lack of weight gain is no mystery at all.

 

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