Body Image, Part 5: Are Adolescents Perceiving their True Weight?

Overweight boy and man: Ian Hooton-Science Photo Library

It is well known that what people consider beautiful changes depending on cultural trends and fashion. On the other hand, we are only recently coming to understand that children are far more likely to be obese today than they were only 20 years ago. Late last year, researchers Standley, Sullivan and Wardle from the University College London decided to study whether this increased weight gain was being accurately perceived by today’s kids.

The researchers were aware of studies showing that despite the increased levels of obesity, there is reduced levels of body image dissatisfaction amongst adults. Speculation is that people are not being realistic about their weight and body image. To determine if this was the case with teens, the researchers decided to survey over 4,000 14 and 15 year old boys and girls. They also wanted to investigate if ethnicity played a role. What they found was that 43% of girls and 24% of boys described themselves as ‘too fat’. Interestingly, this has remained unchanged over the last 20 years. In addition, the researchers found that white adolescents tend to overestimate their weight, while black adolescents underestimate their weight.

If kids are generally overweight as compared to 20 years ago and those describing themselves as “too fat” have stayed the same, then the data may suggest that teens are getting more comfortable with their body size. This is a positive development for those teens who are of average weight. On the other hand, for those who are obese, it suggests that their lack of awareness puts their health at greater risk.

Of course for those who are only slightly over or underweight, there is little concern for their health. On other hand, for those on the extreme ends of the continuum, a consultation with a medical professional is called for.

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