Almost one third of male adolescents inaccurately perceive their weight. This can influence their eating habits and, consequently, their health, according to a study led by the UAB and conducted with 600 teenage boys from Barcelona and surrounding areas. Up to 25% of the boys reported trying to lose or control their weight in the past year.
The research, conducted in collaboration with the Mental Health Unit of the Parc Taulí Health Corporation (CSPT), analysed the effects weight perception had on the boys’ behaviour when trying to lose or maintain their weight. Researchers measured the height and weight of the boys in situ. A total of 597 teenage boys aged 13 to 16 years participated. They predominantly came from middle-class families of Spanish origin, although the research also included boys of Latin American, North African, European and Sub-Saharan origins. They were also asked what they thought their weight level was — underweight, normal weight, slightly overweight, very overweight — and if they had dieted in the past year, as well as what things they had done to lose or control their weight. A total of 65% of them had a normal weight level — according to their Body Mass Index — and 19% were overweight, 7% were obese and 8% were underweight.
The research discovered that up to 28% of the participants were inaccurate on estimating their weight status. Among those with a low weight status, 43% overestimated their weight level, while 86% of those who were obese underestimated their real weight status. Among those who were slightly overweight, 40% underestimated their weight status and believed they had a normal weight. The majority of boys with a normal weight status (85%) were accurate in their perception and 5% perceived that they were overweight.
“We’ve discovered that if a teenage boy with normal weight perceives that he is overweight, the possibilities of him going on a diet are as high as if he really was overweight. And something similar occurs with unhealthy weight-control behaviours, such as skipping a meal or eating very little food. In this case, the probability of doing these things is as high among those who are overweight and those who think they are,” explains Carlos Almenara, lecturer in Psychology at the Masaryk University of the Czech Republic and main author of the study. “These are particularly important discoveries when we consider the high percentage of adolescents who are trying to lose or control their weight, given that 25% informed us of having gone on a diet at least once in the past year or of having unhealthy weight-control behaviours.”
Researchers considered that many adolescents could be behaving in an unhealthy manner in order to lose weight or maintain their weight, because few adolescents have the guidance of a professional. This would lead to acquiring unhealthy eating patterns. In addition, a diet without any professional supervision or a diet associated with extreme behaviours can lead to a lower intake of nutrients which are essential for this developmental period.
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