*The following is excerpted from an online article from PsychCentral.
New research discovers that teens who mistakenly perceive themselves as overweight are at greater risk of obesity as adults.
The finding confirms the belief that an inappropriate body image can lead to a variety of issues during adolescence and adulthood.
“Our research shows that psychological factors are important in the development of obesity,” said psychological scientist and study author Dr. Angelina Sutin of Florida State University College of Medicine.
Researchers investigated whether individuals’ own perceptions — self-stigmatization — might be just as harmful, especially during such a critical developmental period as adolescence.
The research findings are forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, known as Add Health, to examine height, weight, and self-perception data from a total of 6523 adolescents who participated in the study when they were about 16 years old and again when they were about 28.
The researchers were specifically interested in looking at the outcomes for teens who saw themselves as overweight, even though they were a healthy weight by medical standards.
Compared to teens who perceived their weight accurately, adolescents who misperceived themselves as overweight had a 40 percent greater risk of becoming obese as adults, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more.
This misperception was also associated with the overall amount of weight the adolescents gained.
Ultimately, these factors may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy:
“Adolescents who misperceive themselves as being overweight may not take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy weight, because as they gain weight, they physically become what they have long perceived themselves to be,” the researchers explain.
Researchers were surprised to find that the link between perceptions and later obesity was especially strong for boys:
Boys who misperceived themselves as overweight showed an 89 percent increased risk of later obesity compared to those who perceived themselves accurately.
“At this point, it is not really clear why the association is stronger for boys,” says Sutin.
“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 prophesy may be stronger for boys than for girls."