Are negative body images setting teenagers up to be overweight by age 30? It’s possible.
I came across an interesting article last night, detailing the findings of a recent study conducted at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in which researchers concluded that normal-weight teens who perceive themselves as overweight are more likely to become overweight as adults.
In a study of 1,200 adolescents (both female and male), 59% of those who believed themselves to be overweight eventually were, based on BMI, by age 30 (when waist circumference was measured, the number jumped to 78%). Those without distorted views of their bodies were far less likely to become overweight in adulthood – 31% and 55%, respectively.
Researchers suggest that stress over attaining the “perfect” body plays a role in this eventual weight gain, as stress causes weight to accumulate around the waist. Another contributing factor could be due to eating habits, such as skipping meals. They also found that exercise did not compensate for the negative effects of feeling overweight at a young age.
Society can help to combat the body image demons that haunt so many teenagers today. By focusing on healthy eating habits, committing to regular exercise and prioritizing quality sleep, teens can help start healthy habits at a young age. Additionally, by embracing that there are many types of bodies in our world – not the largely unattainable “ideals” that are splashed across magazines and on television.
So, why did I find this article so interesting? Because I have struggled with the size and shape of my body for most of the last 20+ years. I absolutely remember being 15 years old and 115 lbs. (at 5’5”!), thinking that I was huge. I know for a fact that when my body responds in the way I really want it to is when I stop worrying, and stressing myself out over how many calories I’ve burned in a workout, or beating myself up over giving up to my sweet tooth (hey, everybody deserves a cookie once in a while, right?).
Yes, at 31 years old, and likely the best shape of my life, I still want to lose 10-15 lbs. I can’t remember a time that this wasn’t a goal. I work my butt off six days a week, week in and week out, I watch what I eat like a hawk, but I still struggle with accepting my body for what it is (trust me, it took YEARS for me to learn to love my muscles). I’ve had fellow instructors, trainers, and the occasional random person tell me I look great, but I still see the chubby 11 year old in the mirror (I still argue with my mother over this: I think I was fat. She claims every kid gains a few pounds at that age. I still hate looking at pictures of myself from grades 5-7). I’ll admit, those “fat” demons can be incredibly difficult to exorcise.
Which is exactly why it’s crucial that we start healthy habits, and encourage positive body image, young. Active kids tend to be of healthy weight, and by encouraging fitness and healthy eating, we can encourage the next generation to love their bodies, and who they are – not who the magazines and television tells us we’re “supposed” to be.