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Teen Body Image: Thinking You Are Fat May Lead to Obesity

I took my daughter back-to-school shopping this week.  Her style is definitely not mine, and I had to let go of my let’s buy organic, natural fibers in order to let her be who she wants to be.  She is eleven-years-old…the beginning of when body image issues begin for many children.  Unfortunately, some children are developing harmful perceptions at even earlier ages, and with them often come harmful eating habits.

A new study conducted Norway has actually found that body perception, whether accurate or not, can lead to obesity.  Eureka Alert reports:

Teens who feel fat even though they are not are more likely to be obese as adults

They’re everywhere — in magazines, on the Internet, on television—people with super-thin bodies who are presented as having the ideal body form. But despite the increasing pressure to be thin, more and more of us are overweight. Now, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found that normal weight teens who perceive themselves as fat are more likely to grow up to be fat.

“Perceiving themselves as fat even though they are not may actually cause normal weight children to become obese as adults,” says Koenraad Cuypers, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

When I was a preteen and teenager, we obsessed over having the perfect body.   It was never positive. We didn’t compliment each other. We didn’t cut each other down, at least in front of one another, but we definitely were very negative to ourselves.  Perhaps it was the suburb I grew up in or the set of girls I was friends with, but given our media’s representation of women, I think it is more likely cultural.  This new study shows how we become what we think we are.

There are likely many different, and complex, reasons that explain why thinking you are fat as a teen– even if you are not – may lead you to become fat when you are grown.

One explanation may be related to psychosocial stress, which can be associated with gaining weight around the waist. Under this scenario, the psychosocial stress related to having (or not having) an ideal body type, along with the perception of oneself as overweight, can result in weight gain.

“Another explanation may be that young people who see themselves as fat often change their eating habits by skipping meals, for example. Research has shown that dropping breakfast can lead to obesity,” Cuypers says.

Additionally, following a diet that you cannot maintain over time will also be counterproductive, since the body strives to maintain the weight you had before you started the diet.

The researchers checked whether physical activity made a difference in the relationship between perceived and actual obesity. But they found that exercise could not compensate for the negative effect of feeling overweight at a young age.

My daughter is somewhat sheltered from media images.  I want her to love who she is both in and out.  So far, I think she does.  It is my job to make sure she continues to as she enters into the teenage years.

We are all beautiful!  Our children need to believe that!  Our perceptions are powerful at setting our fates!

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  1. Wow, this is interesting. It really shows how important the mind-body connection is, doesn’t it?

  2. This is a very interesting study. It actually is kind of hard to swallow. But after logically thinking about it, it does make a lot of sense. I think it’s even more important to make sure we are providing our young ones with positive role models. Because you are absolutely right, our children need to believe they are beautiful, both inside and out because they truly are.

    • Jennifer Lance says:

      Yes, the source article from Eureka Alert had a great line that our children need role models not super models.

  3. I find it difficult to believe that the thought processes can transfer themselves to actual physical reality with the passing of years. If this is really the case I think I will tell my son to imagine that he can run like Usain Bolt and see what happens! But seriously our kids must follow a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise to avoid obesity.


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