Jim Liebelt Christian Blog and Commentary

Body Image Affects Weight Gain in Teen Girls

*The following is excerpted from an online article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Self-perception among overweight girls can affect their weight gain over time, according to a new University of Minnesota study — but not necessarily in the way some scientists thought.

While one school of thought surmised that overweight girls with positive body images would gain more weight — feeling less motivated to adopt healthy habits — university researchers found the exact opposite.

"Some people believe if young people feel bad about their bodies, this might provide them … the necessary motivation to engage in weight-loss efforts," said Katie Loth, a study author and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. "The results of this study suggest otherwise."

The finding is the latest to emerge from the U of M's Project EAT, an influential research program that has tracked 2,500 Twin Cities adolescents and teens on their attitudes about eating, physical activity and weight for nearly two decades. Previous Project EAT studies have validated the importance of family dinners, the influence of glamour images in the media and other factors that shape perspectives on what it means to be healthy.

In the latest study, the researchers found that overweight girls with negative body images, on average, gained three more points to their body mass indexes over a 10-year period. That may be because they try riskier diets and less successful weight-loss fads, Loth said.

The new study adds significantly to researchers’ understanding of teen attitudes, she said, in that it shows that parents are wrong if they think shame will motivate their children to eat better and exercise. It also shows that adolescent attitudes about weight and body image can have long-lasting effects.

The study, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health, focused on nearly 500 of the teens who were in the 85th percentile for body weight when they first started in Project EAT in 1998 and 1999. An earlier study checked on these participants after five years, when many were in college. Now the study assessed them as they started to approach their thirties and have children of their own.

Body image as a teen had an impact only on overweight females.

Those with a positive image recorded, on average, a 2.9-point increase in BMI, or body mass index, a decade later. (BMI is derived by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters.)

But those with a negative body image recorded a 6.4-point increase in BMI for females in the study.

Males in the study apparently weren’t swayed by their personal body images in the type and frequency of their fitness activities, the study found.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune

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