Two studies link unhealthy weight to poor body image

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Two distinct studies recently confirmed what we already know to be true: Teens who feel bad about their weight are unlikely to maintain a healthy size. That insecurity is, in fact, more likely to be detrimental to their health.


One study, “Does major depression affect risk for adolescent obesity?” which appeared recently in the Journal of Affective Disorders, questions the link between depression and obesity in adolescents.

Lead author Robert E. Roberts of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston explained on Friday, “Our last study found that participants who were depressed were twice as likely to be obese six years later, implying a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and obesity." Roberts' team took a different approach with this research, however. UT Houston explains:

Roberts and his co-author examined data from a study called Teen Health 2000 (TH2K) which surveyed youth ages 11 to 17 in the Houston area. The youth were asked to describe themselves as skinny, somewhat skinny, average weight, somewhat overweight or overweight.

And his most recent results suggest something different. According to the study, those who said they saw themselves as overweight were twice as likely as their counterparts to be obese the following year—regardless of initial weight. "In this new study, when body image was introduced, we found no association between major depression and obesity, meaning that body image is the mediating factor."

The findings also showed that the young women in the study who saw themselves as overweight were three times as likely as their counterparts to be obese one year out.

Indeed, another study, titled "Self-Weighing Throughout Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Implications for Well-Being," that appears in the November/December issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, shows that constant self-weighing can be harmful to teen girls' emotional health.

Researchers looked at data collected by the University of Minnesota's Project EAT, which tracks the weight-related habits of adolescents, a well as their emotional states, across 10 years. This study looked at the link between disordered eating, self esteem, and self-weighing among 1,868 young adults and teens. The paper's results are troubling:

Significant positive correlations were found at each time point between self-weighing and weight concern for both genders. Self-weighing was significantly inversely related to self-esteem at each time point in female participants. Increases in endorsement of self-weighing were significantly related to decreases in body satisfaction and self-esteem and increases in weight concern and depression in female participants and to increases in weight concern in male participants.


"Females who strongly agreed they self-weighed reported engaging in extremely dangerous weight-control behaviors at a rate of 80%," said lead author Carly R. Pacanowski. She continued, "Body dissatisfaction and weight concerns are predictors of eating disorders. This makes it critical that obesity-prevention programs avoid exacerbating these predictors by understanding how behaviors such as self-weighing affect teens."

So it would appear that the best way for teens—especially girls—to be healthy is to avoid obsessing about your weight, and to feel good about yourself.


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.