New Study Shows Nearly One Third of Overweight Adolescents See Themselves as Underweight or “About Right”

Monday, February 08, 2010

Three in ten overweight teens believe they are actually underweight or “about right,” according to a study of more than 65,000 high school students.

“Despite growing attention to the issue of obesity over the past several years, the number of overweight adolescents who misperceive their weight has held steady between 1999 and 2007,” says Nicholas M. Edwards, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and primary investigator on the study.

The study, performed at the University of Minnesota and published online today in Pediatrics, used data in the CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to compare each adolescent’s body mass index (BMI) to their own description of their weight.

The data indicates that males are twice as likely to misperceive their weight as their female classmates, and African-American and Hispanic youth are significantly more likely to misperceive their weight than their Caucasian peers.

After adjusting for age, race/ethnicity and BMI percentile, the study found that overweight accurate perceivers of both genders had significantly higher odds of reporting several healthy weight-related behaviors.

“Although families and clinicians need to be careful and non-judgmental when discussing the health dangers of being overweight, our study shows that those who understood that they were overweight were not more likely to engage in risky weight-related behaviors, such as vomiting or taking medications,” says Dr. Edwards. “In fact, those who understood they were overweight were more likely to report doing the right things for weight control, such as exercising and eating less.”

The study’s authors hope these findings will encourage clinicians to delve deeper to understand their patients’ perceptions of their weight status. After discovering how their patients perceive their weight, clinicians may be better able to individualize their approach to overweight patients and provide tailored support throughout the weight management process.

Funding support came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Adolescent Health Protection Program at the University of Minnesota.

Contact Information

Contact: Kate Setter
Katherine.setter@cchmc.org
513-636-1297